Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Tech My School" in 3 easy steps

  Some fellow educators have inquired of me and want to know about how our school uses iPads and other mobile devices and how we have "arrived". In brief, I would describe it this way:
     Step 1, Cross your fingers and sign a purchase order: 2 1/2 years ago I unwittingly made an administrative decision  to purchase two iPads for my school. I didn't know of any other local schools using them but I was intrigued by the possibilities my building tech leader was beginning to rant about more and more often. It turned out to be a lot bigger decision than I could have imagined at the time. I eventually signed myself and my begging, pleading tech leader up for an iPad training class, which included the iPad in the registration fee. At the time, I shuddered at the cost of such expensive training, but the budget allowed for it and in the second half of our school year, we traveled to Columbus. Not knowing what we were really in for, we began with one iPad for my tech leader to explore their potential in a 4th grade language arts inclusion classroom, and one for myself to see if it had any value to improving productivity of a building principal who valued the use of technology.
      Honestly, I was lukewarm with the classroom potential and I was doubting if it was going to be of any benefit at all for me as a school principal. (Especially, since a desktop PC and Windows software grounded me in my office most of the time.) But, by chance or perhaps fate, the iPad purchase decision happened to coincide at a time when I had begun using my android smartphone more effectively for school work, and I had begun to learn and use something new to me, known as cloud computing via Google docs. Long story short, it didn't take us long to realize what the power of tablets, apps, and cloud computing had on students, staff, and yes, even my administrative tasks. I had drunk the Kool-Aid and there was no going back.
   Step 2, Have Christmas in July: Now that we were convinced and excited about the use of these new devices, we wanted to expand it by putting more of these devices in the hands of our staff and students. With a combination of local AEP vision grants and federal Title funds, I purchased enough iPads for all of my grade level teachers and intervention specialists. This time, I was not lacking in confidence of the decision and was excited for my staff to be "early adopters" and to experience some of the productivity curve I was experiencing. With a crazy plan, I invited all of my staff to a training in the middle of the summer. "Come to the training, receive an iPad."  Everyone attended the week after the 4th of July. I realize everyone has a different learning curve, but I rarely see a staff member in the building today without their iPad close by. (It is not my purpose to expound in this blog on all of the ways staff and students are currently using them as that would fill too many pages. I would encourage you to follow their own blog posts or google+ pages for that.)
   Step 3,  write a grant, receive $10,000 from eTech: We added several more iPads to the 4th grade inclusion classroom and I am exploring the potential of a chromebook at the same time thanks to winning a grant. The projects and learning scenarios have been more than satisfactory this year because of it. Combined with a proliferation of students bringing their own iPads and tablets, our school is experiencing a mini explosion of devices. Our tech director has scrambled to keep the wi-fi infrastructure up to par and we have survived the "bumps in the road." The challenge now is to continue to increase number of devices throughout all grade levels and provide professional development to staff so they can continue to exploit student learning styles and to stay one step ahead of the next wave of tech.
What's next? First, I need to help and support our sister schools as they begin traveling the same paths that we have traveled these past couple of years. Second, I see step 4 for us involving several iPads in a classroom, connected with AppleTV devices to whiteboards or large screen televisions, and probably more chromebooks in classrooms.
    It's an exciting time, but with our school district in deficit spending now, it looks like I had better start looking for the next big grant....   Keep calm, carry on!