As the school year came to an end we had an opportunity for some staff development time which we used to get our staff more familiar with the iPad. As we have purchased a dozen of these prior to summer with another dozen on the way, it would give our teachers who have not spent much time with this tablet an opportunity to learn some of the basic navigation functions, then experiment with it in a supported environment.
The more knowledgeable staff members led the learning, explaining some of the basic features, helping everyone get signed in to our school account, covering the downloading of apps and the procedures and expectations we've been developing, and then everyone got their "hands-on" time. During these type of sessions, I'm always struck by the universal manner in which people learn, a good lesson for the classroom, especially in a tech rich environment. Essentially, it looks a little like a horserace, or maybe even a rodeo. You get a little time to do a preamble while the horses are still behind the gate, then as soon as it opens, good luck trying to control what happens next! Right away the more comfortable and more curious are zipping around their tablets trying new things, while the facilitators scurry about and try to help those who are stuck. You can mitigate against this type of messiness with some good planning and management skills, but you are also going to have to embrace some amount of chaos, and just trust that a little less structure can sometimes lead to a lot more learning.
For the record, the engagement level during this session was astonishing. All the conversations were about the devices, the apps, and different ways they could be used for instruction and learning. I stepped back and took several photos and they all looked staged. They're not. This was with adults at the very end of a very long school year and it was probably the best professional development session I've been involved with.
I also really liked the lateral learning that took place. Those who were more experienced helped those who were less experienced, and those who discovered some new feature or app were always keen to show it to their neighbour. Not only were people learning at a pace that suited them, the interactions were mutually beneficial, as teaching someone else is a great way to deepen your own understanding.
We took a quick break and then continued down in the gym, where another teacher took everyone on a tour of Apple tv, showing the various features on the PE office television. We took turns "taking over" the device and mirroring from our iPads and iPhones, projecting video, playing music, as well as sampling news, education, and sports clips and talking about how these could be used for instruction as well as project-based learning. The teacher who led the session had been completely opposed to iPads only days before, but had been won over by the possibilities of using them to provide exemplars and feedback in PE, not to mention the potential for FUN. The staff was gracious enough to limit themselves to four or five cheeky remarks about the irony of this transformation during his demonstration, showing (for them) admirable restraint.
Prior to our session with the iPads, most teachers were somewhere between curious and skeptical, but afterward there was a genuine rush of enthusiasm about its potential in a classroom. Part of this is the simple move from the theoretical to the practical, not only because of the hands-on time, but also because we will actually have them in the building, along with a charge cart, and some other peripherals. Needless to say, all of the available iPads were signed out for the summer so they might have further learning time with the devices. I don't think that every teacher will want to use them during the next school year, nor do I think that it will completely revolutionize learning at the school. However, these devices certainly will start to find their way into classrooms with increasing regularity, and if used well enough to produce even a fraction of the engagement level that we saw on that day, the students will certainly benefit.