Professional Development | Feature

iPad Training 101

A private school in Michigan is putting an emphasis on professional development to support its new iPad rollout.

Throwing new technology equipment at teachers and hoping that it sticks is an ineffective approach to integrating IT into the classroom. That's why Southfield Christian School in Southfield, MI, is putting professional development first on its to-do list for a fall 2011 iPad rollout.

"We want to make sure our staff members not only have the IT tools that they need," said Peter Webber, director of IT for the school, which serves 600 students in grades PreK through 12, "but that they also have the support necessary to use the equipment in the classroom."

The Proper Care and Feeding of iPads from Karen Bosch on Vimeo.

To make sure teachers are ready for the fall, Webber and his team kicked off their iPad instruction with three days of "pretty intensive training" combined with a basic overview and hands-on usage with the more than 120 applications that were pre-loaded onto the tablets.

On the last day of training, staff members attended a session on using video projects in the classroom and were asked to work in groups to create a video project. One of the teachers--a participant in the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) program--proposed an assignment in which the teachers were to develop a public service announcement (PSA) on "the care and feeding" of school-supplied iPads.

The project took teachers about an hour to complete, with all of the participants using their iPads plus applications like iMovie to write the script, shoot the PSA, and edit it down to the required timeframe.

"They didn't even touch a computer and used only their iPads to complete the project," said Webber. "Our staff was pretty happy with the end result, and the fact that they weren't just having technology firehosed at them. They were actually learning how to use it."

During the training sessions, Webber fielded numerous concerns from teachers who had years of experience in the classroom but who were confused by concepts like cloud computing and, more specifically, using applications like Google Docs. "We spent a lot of time explaining the process of what these applications look like conceptually," said Webber, "and using metaphors and examples to show how they work."

Webber said he's hopeful that the intensive training will translate into the classroom, where he'd like to see a further merging of iPads with Google Apps for student collaboration, both in and out of the classroom. "Ideally, students will start on group projects while in school using their iPads," said Webber, "and then go home and continue to work on the assignments as a collaborative group, rather than just doing homework that's based on one-way lectures."

Southfield Christian School's iPad initiative came about after a new principal took over at the end of the last school year. After conversing with the school's teachers about 21st century learning and the place that technology would play in future instruction, the principal worked with the school's IT team to figure out what type of device would best meet everyone's needs.

According to Webber, teachers were most interested in mobile computers that could handle voice interaction (particularly for foreign language classes), multimedia presentations, and other functions.

"We looked at laptops and netbooks, but nothing really hit the mark," Webber explained. "We wound up going with the iPad because even though it's fairly new, it's still the most mature tablet technology available right now."

Funded by several donors and school fundraising activities, Southfield Christian School's iPad initiative will roll out in the fall. To accommodate the new equipment, Webber said the school will need to beef up its wireless network and is working on that initiative this summer.

"We're going from a handful of computers in a room to 20 or 30 iPads," he said, "so our wireless setup will need to be revamped to handle that added strain."

As Webber and his team shore up the school's wireless network, Southfield Christian School's high school teachers will continue their professional development by figuring out ways to integrate the knowledge they've acquired into their lesson plans for the coming school year.

Webber said a review and "catch up" session for teachers will be held in the fall and will be rounded out by a daylong training session for students. "We're going to break the students down by grade level and show them that these iPads are educational devices," said Webber, "and not just something fun to play with."

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