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Memo to Superintendent J. Doe, Ed.D.: Making your 1-to-1 iPad Rollout a Pedagogical Success

Part 1

Motivation for Memo: We understand that you are rolling out iPads to your district — starting with K-1 in 2014-2015, then moving to 2-3 in 2015-2016, and 4-5 the next year. Many, many districts in the United States are rolling out iPads! We were talking with several of your 1st teachers and one commented to a colleague: “Do you know what apps come on the iPads?” This is not a good thing to hear — especially one week before school starts!

Dr. Superintendent, you are busy with a 1,000,000,001 things and rolling out iPads is not — cannot be — one of your areas of expertise. Thus, our intent with this memo is to make a few doable/actionable suggestions that can make a significant difference. (We have tried these suggestions with other teachers — to positive effect.) In making these suggestion we mean no disrespect. And ... yes, free advice is ... well, free advice. And yes, no advice is free. But, let’s skip the linguistic gymnastics and get down to business!

Underlying Assumption: In order for your $100,000,000 iPad rollout to be successful, your teachers must first become comfortable and then inventive with the iPads. Don’t worry about the kids; they will become fluid and facile with the tech in ... in ... the twinkle of an eye. Focus on helping your teachers; that’s the best use of district’s money!

Caveat: In this memo we focus on the iPad rollout to K-5; we will deal with the Chromebook rollout to 6-12 in a subsequent memo.(If we haven’t been carted off to Upper Antarctica.)

Step 0: This memo is not about the logistical issues in rolling out hundreds/thousands of iPads to K-5. You have hired, already, competent IT staff who have spent the winter and summer (2013-2014) gearing up for the fall (2014-2015) rollout. They know about the latest infrastructure software needed to manage such a rollout. And you have beefed up your school networks to go from very little to no use every day to total, flat-out, every-minute-of-every-weekday use. Make sure your IT staff read about all the mistakes made in the Los Angeles rollout — and don’t make those, at least. Mistakes will happen; acknowledge; fix it; and move on. Trust your IT staff.

Step 1: Right now, your teachers are feeling overwhelmed. While you have given them a one-day workshop on how to work the iPads, the issue for the teachers is how to use the iPads in their classrooms. Naturally enough the teachers will start with their existing curriculum and try to find apps that enhance what they already do. If they are lucky, or if they talk to the right teachers, they will come upon some apps.

A simple scaffold that can be provided, however, is this: Have a knowledgeable iPad specialist sit with the kindergarten teachers separately, with the 1st grade teachers separately, etc. Have the iPad specialist identify 4-6 apps — not 40-60 — that can be used to enhance what the teachers already do. Here are some suggestions:

  1. KWL Charting — Virtually all primary school teachers use the KWL strategy. Support them with an iPad version. (Hint: use WeKWL — a collabrified KWL charting app that supports children working together, simultaneously, synchronously — we promise it will be a success or your money will be returned. Full disclosure: We (CN, ES, and our techies) developed WeKWL and it’s free.
  2. Concept Mapping — Ditto for using concept mapping. Ditto for WeMap — a collabrified concept mapping, blah, blah, blah.
  3. Writing: Kids need to write.
  4. Drawing: And kids need to draw and if possible, animate ...
  5. Drill-and-practice games: Roughly 80 percent of the educational apps on the App Store are drill-style, oriented to the early grades. The pro iPad specialist is not going to be seduced by the glitzy drill games; rotate a few in, see which ones the kids like, rotate a few out; repeat. Emphasis on “a few” — your parents are not going to be happy the see their children just playing games — flash card games, to boot — on the $400 iPads.

The cost of the iPad specialist is trivial by comparison to number of hours that your teachers will waste hunting around for “good apps” to use.

Step 2: Focus on Step 1. Get your teachers help ASAP. Step 1 is just the beginning — but Step 1 can last three to six months! That’s ok!

<To be Continued: Part 2>

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at