Is Inquiry-Based Coaching a Thing?

Last year, I became obsessed with inquiry-based learning. It all began when I read Trevor MacKenzie’s book Dive Into Inquiry. There is so much more to inquiry than this, but one of the things I took from the book was the need for me to learn how to ask the right questions about my content and the importance of helping foster the curiosity of my students so that they become better at asking the right questions about their own learning.

In writing the dedication to MacKenzie’s book, George Couros four-pillars.pngsaid that Trevor “guides readers through the process of relinquishing control of the classroom in order to give students the freedom and flexibility  to take control of their own learning, which is truly the first step in opening the pathway to personalized inquiry learning.”

Now, I work as a coach and my role is to help educators find their path to success by leveraging their strengths and shoring up weaknesses in order to improve student learning.

I’m wondering…thinking…if my passion for inquiry-based learning will simply carve a new channel as I shift from ninth graders to adult learners. It’s still about the questions. If I don’t ask the right questions, I can’t find the right answers. If I can help teachers ask the right questions about their classroom management, content and instructional strategies, then just maybe I can help them feel the “freedom and flexibility to take control of their own learning…”.

So I recently retweeted a link to an Edutopia blog titled “5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students.” I did that because I immediately translated the five questions in the post that were designed for students, into questions that I could and should ask adult learners as their coach. Here they are, in summary:

  1. “What do you think?”
  2. “Why do you think that?”
  3. “How do you know that?”
  4. “Can you tell me more?”
  5.  “What questions do you still have?”

And then I listen to the beautiful silence as the thinking process takes place.

The original author, Edutopia Consulting Editor Rebecca Alber, clearly intended the post to help us as teachers learn to release out students to become personalized learners. With very little change to the content, the message is a powerful one for coaches of adult learners, as well.



Use Adult PD for student learning? Yes!

I made a decision a few years ago that the end of the school year did not mean the end of quality learning experiences for my classroom. Since that time, some of my most creative and popular units of study have been during the last four weeks of the year.

We’ve all been there, and we’ve heard students and teachers both wonder out loud, what the point of continuing past the last state-mandated assessment could be.

This year, one of the learning opportunities that I made available to my ninth grade Computer Information Applications students during the final grading period was a Google Innovative Student certification. “Wait,” you might be saying, “I didn’t know that Google offered a student certification.”

You’re correct. Google does NOT offer a student level certification track (which is the first thing I will change when I am one day CEO of Google). However, for those of us who teach at G-Suite schools who have always WANTED a student certification, I  created one for myself. The students loved it!

The process was simple. I identified 5-6 areas of G-Suite expertise that I thought would help my students more successfully use Google applications in their other courses. I knew that I also wanted this to be a totally self-paced learning track. Third, I wanted it to include assessments that I did not have to grade myself.

I settled on four key areas of learning, then I went looking for resources. I found AtomicLearningLogoexactly what I was looking for in Atomic Learning‘s library of professional development. Now, Atomic Learning is primarily used by adults, so this was not a fluffy, youth-oriented project, but since my students are motivated ninth graders, I saw that as more of a plus than a minus.

I developed my marketing plan to sell the concept to the students and we were off and running. About 35% of my students opted to take advantage of this as an independent learning project. (The remainder of my students would be involved in other student-choice focused learning activities.)

The results were quite good. The feedback was mostly positive and the plan worked as I expected and needed for it to work. My students became more proficient using Google Drive, Google Slides, Google Calendar and Google Sheets. In the end, they had certificates from Atomic Learning to document their success, and they traded those in for an “official” Google Innovative Student certification from me.

Will I use adult-oriented professional development with students again? Absolutely! Not all students will be attracted to or be as excited about it as some, but it will definitely be on the menu again.

I’m Putting My Year to the Pasta Test

Some will argue about the validity of the myth that when you throw pasta against a wall it will stick if it is done, but it still makes a pretty good metaphor for evaluating the success of my school year as an educator.

How much of what I did this year will “stick” and be around for version 2.0 next year?

Primarily because of my PLN on Twitter, I am constantly evaluating new approaches and new ideas. I have the benefit of an administration that allows me “room to run”, so I pretty much operate in beta test mode most of the year. I am free to try new ideas and evaluate without waiting for the beginning of a new year to try something new.

SO, some things will stick and others will not. Let’s put a few ideas to the “pasta test”, throw them against the wall and see if they stick.


Mastery-Based Teaching will stick. The idea that students should master one standard before moving on to a more difficult or a different standard is becoming easier to implement, and it just makes so much sense. My district’s learning management system Canvas by Instructure, with its Mastery Path functionality, makes mastery teaching a work of art. I will continue to integrate this into my teaching strategy as a major component next year.

img42182bInquiry-Based Learning will stick. The best book that I read about this had to do with design thinking and it was Launch by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. This approach allows  students of any grade level to learn the art of self-discovery by allowing them to mine for knowledge and understanding. As a teacher, I am part coach and part facilitator. The biggest challenge that I faced with this is learning how and when to provide direct instruction so that it augmented the independent learning that the students were experiencing.

img42182bGamification will stick. Kids get this, so I will keep it. This year, I developed a classroom game culture that encouraged both individual and team competition. Check out my class game website at I need to find ways to promote it more along the way, but the way the game ended this year told me I was on the right track. Gamified strategies are not for every student, so I am trying to decide how to handle the non-gamers and still build the culture that I want in the classroom.  Check out Michael Matera’s book “Explore Like a Pirate” or his Web site at for a great gamification connection.

img42182bDifferentiated/Individualized/Personalized Learning will stick. They are not the same thing and you need to understand how they differ to appreciate this, and you can look to Barbara Bray for a better understanding. The point is, even if we have to teach the same standards, not every student comes into my classroom with the same level of understanding. Some already know a great deal of what my curriculum says they have to learn in my course. Why on earth would I put them through the hell of spinning their wheels for nine months just because most of my student need to learn what they already know? I will continue to look for ways to personalize the learning experiences of my students in a way that fits them.

Pasta NoNo Grades and No Penalties for Late Work will probably not be on the list for next year. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to go “no grades” and work with a system that does not make the final measure of learning, an average of all assessments. I will continue to tame small bits of this one and experiment, but grades are too entrenched on my campus and in my district to fight this battle full-on. Late work? Don’t get me started. Philosophically, I am convinced that late work — no matter how chronic — is a behavioral issue and not an academic issue. It is wrong and makes a grading system weaker to lower an “average” by applying zeros for misbehavior. However, that being said, I teach in an early college high school where we are expecting our students to make a huge developmental leap into the community college environment as 9th grade students. In college, late work is just no work, and grades reflect the result. My students cannot afford the luxury of not being penalized in my class, because in the next class period, Dr. Toughheart will hit them hard in his college class.  As much as I believe in the concept, I just can’t make it work for me on this campus. My students have to learn quickly that in their “real world” it costs a lot to be late with an assignment.



Playing with .html in Canvas

I recently attended a CanvasCon event in Dallas and had a chance to learn some new tricks for maximizing my use of my district’s learning management system, Canvas by Instructure. I have been using Canvas for three years now, and the folks at Instructure are constantly adding to and improving the product. I teach a computer applications course to 9th graders and my course is built exclusively around Canvas.

Canvas, which is free, by the way, to teachers is a very robust industry leader that allows me to build a strong, blended learning experience for my students. I’m certain that there are some differences between the free version and the version that my district pays for, but it is worth every penny invested. When I need it to be completely online, it functions extremely well in that capacity, too, allowing me to meet the needs of homebound and absent students very nicely.

Back to CanvasCon, though, and something really cool that I learned howh5p-logo-box to use at that event. In a session sponsored and led by a crew of consultants from our Education Service Center Region 11 from Fort Worth, I learned about a third-party tool called (See the #canvaschicks on Twitter.)

According to the H5P website, users can “create interactive content by adding the H5P plugin to yourWordPress, Moodle or Drupal site, or you can create content directly on and embed it on your website.” Add Canvas to that list.

Using the plug-in to create interactive elements has allowed me to experiment with elements that improve the functionality and the visibility of my lessons in Canvas. I have been able to create and embed via .html these types of content in my Canvas lessons:

  • Accordion vertically stacked content
  • Image juxtaposition files that allow amazing comparison/contrast activities
  • Collages and Hotspots that allow for the identification of key images within a series
  • Embedded video-based quizzes
  • and more

I was even able to backdoor the installation of an audio file in my Weebly portfolio site,   (a feature not normally allowed in the free version) by creating the audio file in H5P and then embedding it into an .html box inside of Weebly. The result was exactly what I wanted.

Now,  this post is obviously not a full-blown training event, but I am working on a demo video that will explain this a little better for visual learners like me. Or, you can just go to, create a free account and play around with the toys in the toolbox. You’ll be amazed!

Try out the Image Juxtaposition function by clicking the photo below. You will be taken to a module in Canvas in which you can use the vertical slide to move the image from 100% color to various degrees of black and white.

Grand Carousel1

Do You Have Snowflake Students in Your Classroom?

There are a few books that have greatly influenced how I view my students over the last couple of years. They include Jessica Lahey’s Gift of Failure, and Susan Cain s QUIET: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I recently ran across the name of Wilson Bentley, also known as The Snowflake Man and was intrigued by his passion for photographing snowflakes. Born in 1865, wbBentley developed an insatiable curiosity for the snowflakes that fell every winter in his home state of Vermont. Bentley’s life is the subject of a 1999 Caldecott Award winning book called Snowflake Bentley. According to the Official Snowflake Bentley web site , he is credited with the discovery that “no two snowflakes are alike.”

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about snowflakes, having spent most of my life in the warmer climates of Florida and Texas, but as an educator,  I was captivated by a couple of comments contained in the quote above from Bentley’s writing.

First of all, Bentley wrote, “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.” Sounds a little like Bentley has been to my classroom. I teach ninth graders at Arlington Collegiate High School, in Arlington, Texas, and I can assure you that everyone of my students is unique. Most of them are the most important human beings in the lives of their parents, and they are fearfully and wonderfully made to achieve something important in their lives. This is my 12th year of teaching in my school district, and during that time I have had the privilege to teach students and their siblings again and again. I have taught all four children from one family. In each of those cases, while there may be subtle physical similarities, no two students are same — even when they come from the same genetic pool.

The other statement above that resonated with me was, f361f234ccb772b78dc9404cb6064a19When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.” Each of my students represents something that only comes along once in a lifetime. It’s so easy for some students to pass through our hallways, coming and going, leaving little more than a counselor’s data file behind to mark their existence. Bentley seemed determined to preserve the beauty of each individual snowflake he photographed (capturing more than 5,000 images on equipment that would pale against today’s digital tools). I’m certain that I can no more “save” every student who comes my way than Bentley could photograph every snowflake that fell within his reach. I can, however, make a difference where I can before my students “melt” and move on with their lives.

So what does this mean for me as an educator?

  • It is the reason that I differentiate, individualize and personalize as much as I can when planning my lesson strategies.
  • It is why personal student conferences are so important to assessment.
  • It is why I love my district’s choice of learning management system for it’s feedback functionality that enables me to communicate so easily with my students. 

I do have snowflake students in my classroom, and chances are, you do, as well. Our challenge is to appreciate them and mark their presence and existence in a way that ensures that they do not juts melt and move on with “no record left behind.”

SAMR or 4Cs? Why Choose?

I recently read a blog post written by someone who had been retweeted by someone I follow. The title of the post of “I’m ditching SAMR for the 4Cs…” I don’t know the author, but her post got my attention and made me think. Let me say at the outset that I don’t think that I have to choose between the two concepts. They are fundamentally different and do not necessarily point in two different directions as she believes.

My purpose here is not to critique her post point by point (I have included the link above and I would encourage a close reading and evaluation for yourself.), but rather, I would like to reflect a little on why I use both strategies in my classroom.

It should be pointed out that while my background is in English/Language Arts, I now teach a computer applications course.

SAMR has been defined by Kathy Shrock as “a model designed to help educators infuse technology into teaching and learning. Popularized by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, the model supports and enables teachers to design, develop, and infuse digital learning experiences that utilize technology.”

The 4Cs are usually described as key strategies relative to 21st century skills that educators are encouraged to cultivate and teach to their students and include critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration.

I want both in my classroom, and I use one to enhance the other to help my students be more successful.

The writer makes the point that “SAMR focuses on technology use, not on instruction.” and I do not disagree completely. There are two ways of considering this, however. As a technology trainer (and some administrators might share this perspective as well) I am sometimes responsible  for helping make sure that technology resources are used to their fullest potential and that teachers are trained so that they can effectively use the resources at their disposal. SAMR’s layers help teachers understand that sometimes there are better ways to use technology in order to get the most out of the tool. I could use a power drill for a hammer (and I have tried a couple of times) but I will be much more successful if I use a hammer to pound nails.

Secondly, instruction is an umbrella word for everything that happens between a teacher and a student in the classroom. The tools that we choose and the strategies we employeare “instructional”. Why would we separate SAMR from the process? If tech is not effective, either find different tech or put the tech away and find something else that works better, but SAMR is not the issue.

The writer writes that she feels judged by SAMR’s apparent ranking. I would submit that in its original intent, SAMR is not meant to rank Redefinition as inherently better than Substitution any more than Knowledge is better than Evaluation in Blooms. Sometimes knowledge and comprehension are appropriate learning objectives. There are, no doubt, some who would use SAMR that way, but that is a mistake.

I recently taught a workshop for the Lausanne Learning Institute in which I explored the levels of SAMR and demonstrated for a group of educators each level in a 1-hour lesson taught to 11th graders. We moved through a series of instructional strategies that enabled us to use all four layers. The purpose was to help educators distinguish the separate ways of using technology, and to show that in some instances, the technology helped increase student engagement and to move the lesson into higher levels of learning. In the final portion of the lesson the students engaged a second group of students on a different campus in a web conference. During those individual web conferences, they communicated, collaborated and were asked to think critically about decisions they had made earlier in the assignment. That’s how SAMR and the 4Cs work together — not exclusive of each other or in opposition to each other.

Let me show you how it might work first with a diagram created by Kathy Shrock in which she relates SAMR and Blooms.


Now, I’ll take the liberty of adding to her diagram a visual that reflects how I see where the 4Cs might fit in relation to these two concepts. Blooms and SAMR both work as propulsion and payload to support the student-centered delivery of 4Cs learning experiences. Again, I see no need to ditch any of them in favor of the other. I’ll be hanging on to both.






“Is My Classroom Better Because of Tech?”

For many years, I sought to effectively integrate technology into my English classroom. Now, I teach technology applications, and I find that I more and more integrate core content classes into my technology-rich environment in order to facilitate learning. I do wonder sometimes if technology gets in the way of learning or if I am using it in a way that enhances learning for my students.

How are classrooms better today because of technology?

Computerized-brain-made-of-GPUs-864x480I was recently invited to consider an article titled “How People Learn (and What Technology Might Have to Do With it)” and evaluate my own conceptions of how technology contributes to the learning process in my classroom. While my first reaction to the article was colored somewhat by the author’s use of an illustration involving a student who brought his father’s Palm Pilot to school (the article was first published in 2002), the primary assumptions by the author are more timeless and deserve closer consideration.

The author, Dr. Marcy P. Driscoll, now dean of the College of Education at Florida State University and author of Psychology of Learning for Instruction, writes that51qWpQLB8oL._SX386_BO1,204,203,200_

  • Learning occurs in context
  • Learning is active
  • Learning is social
  • Learning is reflective

Without merely summarizing Driscoll’s work, it is helpful to react to it in light of current theory and practice. Context is important to the learning process. When a student asks, “Why do I have to learn that?” they are more than merely questioning the teacher’s strategy, and it is likely that said instructor is not taking the depth of knowledge (DOK) high enough for there to be a context in which the student can learn. I often read that if a concept or question can be resolved by “googling” the question, then why not Google it and move on to a task with a higher level of thinking. Because of technology, students can learn anywhere, anytime and from anyone and that they are much less reliant on the teacher for that learning. It may be that it is the teacher’s role more than ever before to create the context that allows learning to take place, rather than merely enforce rote memorization. Newer technology such as augmented and virtual reality has the power to help provide context in ways not possible previously.

Proponents of student “voice and choice” and personalized learning are often criticized for an unrealistic view of what really should be happening in the classroom. Driscoll’s contention that “learning is active” could be interpreted as a precursor of a more student-focused learning model that we are seeing in more classrooms today. “Active” means more than movement (Although brain science is now teaching us that frequent “brain breaks” are a positive influence on the learning process.). If Driscoll were writing today, she might well use the term “engaged” instead of active. Engagement happens more easily when there is “buy-in” and “ownership” of the learning process by students. Technology helps me with the task of personalizing my learning, and providing more immediate and meaningful feedback. Both of these increase engagement and ownership of the process and make learning more “active”.

Learning is social, if by that we mean that learning flourishes in a collaborative and communication-rich environment. A little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “How is My Classroom Becoming Glocalized? In it I shared a revelation that I had recently realized I was “growing more and more passionate about providing my students with opportunities to connect with students and campuses around the country and around the world.” Technology has brought the world to my classroom and provides my students with an opportunity to share their creativity with the world. The presence of a relevant and authentic audience is a total game changer for learning today and technology makes that possible as never before.

Driscoll’s comments about learning being reflective reminded me of an article I read recently “The Cognitive Science Behind Learning” by Clark Quinn. Among many important points Quinn references the importance of slowing the learning process down to allow for metacognition and reflection so that the brain has a chance to take advantage of its plasticity. How does technology facilitate the process of metacognition? The primary way that I have experienced this is in that technology makes it easier to employ multiple iterations and and allow multiple attempts at success. Driscoll cites the feedback – reflection – revision loop, and technology makes it easier for me to build in multiple “loops”, slowing the process and working more effectively toward mastery. I especially appreciate having access to Canvas as a learning management system because it makes this enjoyable and easy process for me as an educator.

In the end, our role as teachers is changing. As is often pointed out, we can no longer be the “sage on the stage”, but should strive to be a facilitator of great learning experiences. Learning happens for any of us when we discover we have a need to know. As a facilitator in my classroom, I can “salt” the environment to help stimulate my students’ thirst by establishing relevant connections to their world and to The World. Their thirst helps them engage at a level that makes learning more likely. Technology – although ever changing – enables that process for both me and my students.   
“How People Learn (and What Technology Might Have To Do with It).” PsycEXTRA Dataset. Print.

How is My Classroom Becoming “Glocalized”?

It kind of rolls off the tongue, don’t you think? It’s an easy connection of two words — local and global. The word reflects a new kind of localization and an equally new sort of globalization.
I first heard the word a few years ago at a church here in Texas that used “glocal” to describe its view of understanding how its ministries related to an ever-growing variety of cultures in our city.
The essence of the term, “glocalization” was first used by British sociologist Roland Robertson. He credits the Japanese word “dochakuka” for his ideas, and defines the term as “the simultaniety — the co-presence — of both universalizing and particularizing tendancies.” (According to a post by the National Association of Independent Schools)

Then, last year I realized I was growing more and more passionate about providing my students with opportunities to connect with students and campuses around the country and around the world. 

The concerns I had for local priorities were quickly becoming joined

with a desire for my students to enlarge their world beyond the borders of our own country and beyond the walls of my classroom in Arlington, Texas.
For me, it began with Twitter. A simple post was picked up and quoted by an educator in Kathmandu, Nepal. I’m not sure you can get any further away from Texas than Kathmandu. (At more than 8,000 miles, it is almost a third of the way around the world from our classroom!) That incident kick-started a friendship between Sunny Thakral and resulted in a Google Hangout classroom connection between our two groups of students. (Not easily accomplished with 12 time zones between us.)
My students loved the experience and so did I. Some of them still maintain long-distance Instagram relationships with their friends at the British School in Kathmandu. Sunny and I “see” each other often in a variety of Twitter chats, though we’ve never met face to face. We now have several mutual friends in several countries.

In the past year, I have participated in several international experiences as an educator.

My classroom has gotten involved as well.

  • My students are participating in this year’s 24-hour edcamp Global Classroom 2016, with 7 of my students facilitating international sessions on topics that include social media in the classroom, cyberbullying, gamification, and copyright law.
  • We have hosted several “mystery Skype” and Google Hangout speakers from other countries and,
  • We are presently planning a global connections week emphasis focusing on social entrepreneurship that will feature guests from Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, as well as the United States.

All of this has served to enhance our local objective of teaching honors computer information applications by providing a much broader context for the business principles and technology we are learning. My students are better locally by becoming more aware globally. We are “glocalizing” in the best sense of the word.
I’m not certain where it is all going to me as an educator, but I do know this. I have this crazy notion that one day, my students from Texas, along with students from a few other countries will meet up in the same Google Classroom and begin learning technology applications together. It may only be a two-week mini-mester or some such, but I will share the teaching responsibilities with those students’ teachers and we will all learn together. Now, that’s what I call going “glocal”.

“A writing oasis in the midst of all this tech”

(This post originally appeared in my previous blog, “” and since I only post to this site now, I am moving and republishing some of my most popular posts.)

I spent the first 16 years of my career in language arts- related content areas, and writing is a personal passion of mine. So when I moved into 9th grade this year as a computer information applications teacher I wondered about where and how those writing roots would come into play. I no longer have a room with shelves of novels, dictionaries and thesauri, and tables so easily moved into wonderfully collaborative groups. New technologies metaphor. Isolated on whiteI have a room with 24 Dell desktop computers that are hard-wired into fixed positions and desks that don’t move more than six inches either way. Hmmm….

By the end of the second week of school, however, I had decided how to work writing into my curriculum without using the jaws of life to make room for it. Blogging was the answer for me. We will use student blogs as a place to write reflectively about what we are learning as we explore the wonderful world of technology applications. Here’s how we plan to do it.

1. I chose because it plays well with our students’ Google accounts, and, since I teach high schoolers, I no longer need the strong, secure platform offered by  Kidblog is still very effective, but I also wanted individual blogs instead of students posting to a class blog account. I would rather read 110 separate student blogs than manage one classroom site with 110 posts every week.

2. I have asked students to write a weekly post in which they describe something that they learned about in my class that caught their attention. Hopefully it is also something about which they would explore learning more as time goes by. I will ask them to reflect on how they could use this technology in their other classes.  In the initial post, I gave them the freedom of writing about something they had learned in ANY class during the previous week. I was amazed how many wrote about science.

3. I have initially emphasized two things. I have reminded them that their blog is a very public document and subject to being tweeted about on my educational Twitter feed or even featured on my own educational blog site, as well as recommended to members of our faculty. We have begun discussing other digital citizenship issues as well. I will teach site management and commenting along the way.

From this point, I will allow them to blog as often as they like, but they must write at least one post per week that applies strictly to our classroom content that week. Then, each six weeks, they will designate one of those posts for close grading. While I will read many of their posts, I do not want to actually closely grade 110 posts each week. I will, however, offer comments and feedback to many of their posts along the way, only officially assessing one post.

The initial posts ranged from 1-3 sentence summaries to 200-300 word reflections that demonstrated a lot of thought and consideration.  Not everyone started with the same ability. Fewer than 6 out of 110 had to be tracked down to post their work after the deadline. Not a bad start. It is a process and we will refine it along the way throughout the year.

I am considering how to archive really great posts and perhaps republish them at the end of the year in journal form.  I’ll work that out along the way, too. I want this to help us connect with students outside of our campus, too.

We did not initially comment on each others’ posts, but that will come later. Pernille Ripp also has some great ideas in her blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, and we will consider her tips on using class blogs to connect both on the campus and around the world.


There are so many possibilities now that we have started, and it’s going to be a wonderful writing oasis in this classroom so dominated by electronics.

“What if I only had one iPad for my classroom?”

(This post originally appeared in my previous blog, “” in January 2016, but since I only post to this new site, I am moving some of my most popular posts and republishing here in this location.)

The pre-kindergarten teacher was from a small elementary school in Arkansas. She had created a project and placed it on in hopes that it would be crowd-funded into reality by December 31. I first noticed it on December 30.

The tag on her project announced that it would expire in just one day. What was her project? She was looking for help to buy an iPad for her students. That’s right. An iPad. Just one. Not a cart of 24 or 36 so that every student would have their own iPad. Just one iPad. And a case.

Here’s a takeaway for this post: By considering students as individuals, we will find that even meager resources can accomplish more than we ever imagined.

I was moved by the simplicity of her request. I thought about how the junior high school where I taught for 10 years had more iPads than we could keep up with. I thought about the math teacher there who was two years from retirement, and whose school-issued iPad still had the cellophane wrapper on it when she left our campus. She refused to learn how to use it. I also thought about my current campus where every high school student has a new Dell laptop and we have a cart of 36 Chromebooks “just in case we decide to use them.” Obviously, I work in a very technology-rich district.

I mentioned the Arkansas teacher’s project to a friend whose personal iPad is the only iPad in her classroom. “It just doesn’t do a lot of good to only have one,” she said.

I felt a little challenged. What if I only had one iPad? What could I do? What could this Arkansas teacher possibly have in mind, asking for only one iPad?

So, after some consideration, here’s what I came up with. Here are 10 things I could do with my students if I had only one iPad in my classroom.

  • The iPad has a camera. My students could take turns making videos of their work or taking photos to use in their work,
  • I would install the Class Dojoapp and make it part of my classroom management system
  • I would use the Sock Puppet app to help my students create sock puppet shows about books or stories that they had read.
  • I would use the Explain Everything animated whiteboard app to create short lessons that my students could use for extra help.
  • My students would learn to use Google Maps and Google Earth to expand the boundaries of their own personal world.
  • Without having to buy a full subscription, I would install the BrainPOP feature movie app and open the door to more than 750 science, math, social studies, English, Arts & Music and health videos — all with closed captioning to assist reading skills.
  • I would use the Virtual Manipulatives app to help teach math with visual, digital objects.
  • Khan Academy’s more than 3,500 video resources would become available as lesson aids for me, or tutorial sessions for my students.
  • The Too Noise Light app would become another staple of my classroom management system.

You may have noticed that most of these apps are installed for direct student use. A couple of them would help me as a teacher more than they would help the students. All of them could be used with either small groups or with individual students one at a time. And all of them are free.

Having only one iPad in a classroom is not a problem if a teacher is thinking about individuals. If all you see are 30 shining faces, then you might conclude that you need 30 iPads to accomplish anything meaningful. If you see them one at a time, then you know that Sally would benefit from a tutorial or a game, and you know that Juan’s math skills could get a boost from a solid math app.

I’m not trying to judge anyone, and I realize that I have never had to take this minimalistic approach to my classroom. I have been blessed. I AM trying to say that this Arkansas teacher had a vision and a workable plan. Sadly,  I think her project expired before funds were raised to get the iPad for her classroom. I hope she finds a way to get her iPad. I rather suspect that she will.

By the way, here are several links to some sites where some people ever more creative than I have put some ideas for the one iPad-classroom;