Monday, October 31, 2011

Moving Beyond Our Desk AND The Classroom

Integrating the iPad into our classrooms here at Zeeland East High School has not only challenged me and my colleagues to rethink just about everything, but it has also prompted our students to move beyond the old way of doing things.

Rather than standing tethered to our desktop computers to take attendance or to click through a presentation, the iPad has allowed us to move about the room while accomplishing the same tasks. With the Splashtop Whiteboard app on our iPad, and the Splashtop Streamer installed on our desktop system, we can actually take attendance while out amidst our students. Likewise, old PowerPoint presentations can now be run using this application without needing to click keys or wrangle a mouse on our desk. Even better, this same app allows for annotating, drawing, and highlighting right over the content we’re projecting onto the screen in the front of our classroom. The result? More engaging presentations AND the freedom to roam about the room – an essential freedom, especially when working with a group in need of extra classroom management. And it’s this same freedom to work remotely that I was surprised to discover some of my students engaging in just recently.

Nearing the end of our culminating project in one of my 10th Grade English classes, some groups were still scrambling to get their work off of the ground, others were putting the finishing touches on their collaborative efforts, and a few were stymied by some of their teammates being absent. However, there was one particular group that surprised me with their creative solution they found for the absence of one member on their team: the Skype app. I had just finished meeting with one of the teams to check their progress, so I proceeded to check my email, only to find that the absent student had emailed me to see what he was missing in class today. Before I replied to his request, I walked around the doorway to check on his group, only to find their team leader sitting with her iPad propped up next to her with that same student’s face filling her screen. As I approached her, the absent student shouted, “Hey, Mr. Jacob! Did you get my email?” I was stunned. When I asked his teammates what they were doing, they told me that they were Skyping him so they could continue working on their project without having to wait for him to return with the information they needed. What an awesome moment that was! There that student was, sitting up in his sickbed, collaborating with his team so they wouldn’t fall behind on their work. It was quite a moment for me.

No excuses for not having their work ready on time. No excuses that they didn’t know how to reach their teammate. These sophomores did some critical thinking, planned ahead, and made things happen in a way that we couldn’t have imagined happening prior to the arrival of the iPads. This was truly a moment of discovering that, through a little bit of technology, and a little bit of creative problem solving, students can empower themselves to be better collaborative learners. And we as teachers can see how leaving our desk behind is almost as good as students discovering how to leave the classroom behind to reach out to their peers.