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Innovation in Practice: Transforming Classroom Culture in a 1-to-1 Model

This post was co-authored with Ann Feldman (@annfeldmann1). In addition to being a District Instructional Technology Specialist, Ann is an Apple Education Trainer, Google Certified Educator, adjunct professor, and presenter. Passionate about transforming teaching and learning, Ann is currently working with her district iPad Academy initiative to provide hands-on support to help create personalized learning environments.

Sometimes, I have a unique opportunity to engage in conversations with educators from across the country, and this is no exception. For the past several years, I have benefitted from learning alongside Ann and her colleagues in Bellevue, Nebraska. Truth be told, I cyberstalked their very first professional development week in the summer of 2013. Stuck at home with a broken leg, I joined in via Twitter for their inaugural #iPadAcademy professional development event. Through that experience, I connected with Ann and discovered the initiative in her district to use technology as a means to individualize and personalize learning for every student.

Lately, I've written that innovation is more than just changing the environment of the classroom through an infusion of technology. It requires a shift in the behaviors and beliefs of the people within those spaces - both the teachers and the students. Through their thoughtful, systematic implementation of not only iPads but also coaching and support, Ann's district has addressed all three of these facets of innovation.

Ann's Story of the iPad Academy

This journey began several years ago when our district technology committee recommended lowering the student to device ratio and ultimately move to a potential 1:1 environment. At the same time, we wanted to increase student learning and achievement while fostering a culture of creativity, curiosity, and individualized learning. Once the committee decided that iPads would be the device of choice, we started to build our program in a slow but deliberate way to work towards a solid 1:1 model.  

The iPad Academy was born out of a belief that to effectively integrate technology, there needs to be an emphasis on professional development and establishing a student-centered classroom culture.  While our program focuses on creating a group of educators who are prepared to take on the challenge of teaching students in a 1:1 classroom using Apple technology such as Macs and iOS devices, the transformation occurring in these classrooms is not because of the device. Rather, it's a combination of a powerful professional development program, solid pedagogy and content knowledge by the teacher, and student access to an iPad all day, every day.

What Innovation Looks Like in an iPad Academy Classroom

I walked into a 1:1 elementary iPad classroom and knew it had happened. There was a happy hum in the room; kids were working independently in soft spaces like couches and on the floor, and the vibe in the room was productive yet calm. However, where was the front of the room? Where was the teacher?  

What I am describing is a disruptive, blended classroom as defined by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker in the book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.

"There is a simple rule of thumb for spotting a disruptive model of blending learning: if students are learning in a blended setting, and you can't figure out where the front of the classroom is then it's probably a disruptive model (Horn & Staker, p.76)."    

I have witnessed this shift happen several times as we have implemented 1:1 iPad classrooms in my district. Teaching and learning look very different from the traditional model that we envision when we think of a classroom and school. Instead of finding teachers delivering content in one unifying message from the front, they are crafting a personalized learning environment grounded in pedagogy, choice, and creation which shifts the teacher from the focal point to working alongside students and shifts from desks facing forwards to soft spaces scattered throughout the room.  

Making The Shift Happen

As an iPad coach, I work in classrooms alongside students and teachers. From Day One, we sought to craft a blended environment where students could learn online and in person as well as at their own pace and in their own way. First, we set up a blended classroom workflow using tools such as iTunes U, Google Classroom, and Schoology. We want our students to have control over time, place, path, and pace. With these tools, students can access and submit assignments anytime and from anywhere. Not only is this a great workflow, but it also provides a seamless opportunity for teachers to give feedback and privately differentiate for every child. In this blended environment, audio and video capabilities provide students choice and independence in how they learn and in how they demonstrate their mastery of learning objectives.  

Within the physical space, we create soft spaces, places in the classroom that feel like home with couches, lamps, and bean bags that provides students the freedom of movement and collaboration so that they can work individually and with one another naturally throughout the day. A major shift in beliefs is for our teachers to let go and allow the students learn. Though this new environment feels disorienting at first, teachers gain the advantage of time to conference with individual students as well as provide guidance to small groups when they step away from the front of the room.  

Changing Environment, Behavior, and Beliefs

In workshops and at conferences, educators often want to know what learning could look like. They have added devices to their environments but do not feel as though the learning experience has really changed. Educators like Ann and her colleagues at the iPad Academy offer a vision of what may be possible. Their innovation began with a belief in student-centered learning and a desire to foster a culture of creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking. Ultimately, this has resulted in a dramatic shift in the behaviors of both teachers and students, truly changing what learning could look like.

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