My Biggest Takeaway from LAUSD’s iPad Problems – Put Students In A Leadership Role

Chris and Thabani were a critical part of our 1:1 Planning Team

There has certainly been a lot written in regards to the problems in Los Angeles Unified School District with their iPad deployment.  My intention in writing this brief post is not to point fingers at another district for their problems, but while reading a recent post written by Katrina Schwartz on MindShift I couldn’t help thinking about one non-negotiable in setting up 1:1 initiatives for success. The post, How Students Uncovered Lingering Hurt From LAUSD iPad Rollout, highlighted the feelings of students from all of the negative stories about their district regarding the iPad initiative.

 “In the L.A. Times they did an article about us and about how the iPads were hacked,” said Mariela Bravo. “The comments hurt. I have pride in my school and it was really bad. We were the example of why they shouldn’t give [the iPads] to us. They have to trust us more, we could surprise them and they could see that we are good kids.”

When we started our 1:1 planning in Burlington more than five years ago, the first thing we did was involve our students on the planning team.  The input of our students helped put so many things in perspective for the planning team and saved us time and money. We saved time because instead of speculating about what students may or may not do with new mobile devices they would be receiving, we had students tell us firsthand what to expect. They saved us money because when we were talking about which case we should by for each of the more than 1,000 iPads that we would be purchasing, one of the students told us not to by cases. He told us that the students would take them off and buy their own cases and that we would be wasting our money.

This student input has continued to play a critical role in our support of staff and students with our BHS Help Desk.  As our iPad initiative has expanded to other schools in our district, our student help desk model has as well.   While I could go on and on about what I have learned from students over the past four years of our 1:1 journey, I will save that for a future posts. My main point here is to let school leaders know that the first step in a successful 1:1 initiative is to make students a formal part of the plan.

A Tour of the BHS 1:1 Program With BHS Senior Nikhil Thakkar

Last week, I was afforded the opportunity of perusing through Burlington High School’s main office hallways, through the art and photography studio, into the heart of BHS math with Mr. Khan’s AP calculus class. The BHS Help Desk shirt, customized for each individual tour guide, was merely the beginning of an imaginatively free session of “touring,” a time when I was able to show teachers, administrators, and parents from around the world how BHS has implemented technology into its classrooms. 
I, as a tour guide played the role of the messenger, answering questions and giving a general rundown about how an iPad may be helpful in “navigating a simulated cell,” throughout a biology class, or reading “ebooks” for an English class, ultimately making highlighting and note taking more accessible and effective. We even learned how Mr. Khan uses Notability and different calculator applications for different functions in his math classes. Although I gave the tour myself, it was not simply I who was talking. Quite the opposite, no one was “talking,” because the tour was much better described as a “conversation” between administrators and tour guide, as I aimed to engage administrators with the tour rather than lecture at them. 
A few prime examples of questions included: How do students use their study period? How are iPads used in foreign language classrooms? Is Burlington a BYOD school? I’d like to address each of these questions in their respective order, the first of which lends itself to explaining the truly open-minded, innovative ideology behind constructing the Burlington curriculum. 
Walking into the library, administrators witnessed a Google-like “lounge” area, where students seemed to be heavily focused on their iPads. I won’t deny that students play games (in class and out of class), but I will argue that students have learned individual responsibility not only for their lives but for their education; the underlying principle is that distractions, by definition, will always exist. However, it’s the idea that we need to learn how to effectively deal with these distractions that Burlington advocates for. Thus, throughout daily 45-minute periods, students are not only working, but they are also taking charge of their education and learning invaluable life skills, the most conspicuous being time management. 
The second question is one of my favorites, as I am a prospective linguistics major (yes, yes I know linguistics isn’t the same as languages). iPads are used heavily within foreign language classrooms as they allow for intensive involvement with reading, writing, speaking, and listening (especially the latter two). We were able to witness first-hand Señora DeSousa’s Spanish classroom using the iPad for a listening exercise. Personally, I find the iPad’s extremely effective and useful, as they launch students into the real world (as they listen to real interviews and read real newspapers). 
Lastly, BHS is not officially a BYOD school, however this doesn’t stop students from bringing their own Mac’s (and yes even Windows at times) per their own convenience. Burlington doesn’t restrict. It only opens doors. Ultimately, like in any school, it’s up to the student to take those opportunities or not (and see whether those opportunities resonate with them).  Being in the spotlight was…well…empowering. I experienced profound joy in knowing I have the power to advocate for and perpetuate Burlington’s ideology of intellectual freedom. As an avid public speaker, I had the most trouble with reigning my thoughts in at the end of the hour long tour as I had so much to say and so little time to say it. Nevertheless, this experience proved extremely invaluable and I sincerely hope to showcase Burlington and all of its talent to even more administrators in the future.
Best regards,

We Hosted A 1:1 Visit Today

Thanks to BPS Mobile Learning Coach Jennifer Scheffer for all of the planning for today’s program to discuss our 1:1 efforts at Burlington High School. The slides from the presentation are below along with a brief Storify of the morning with our guests. As is the norm, our students and staff were tremendous with their insights and openness about teaching and learning in Burlington

How Staying Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success

This post first appeared on Edudemic

Memorial 5th graders at New England Student SHowcase.png
Burlington students presenting at the recent New England 1:1 Summit 

As we near the completion of our third year of being a 1:1 tablet school in Burlington, I continue to ponder what is the next step. Glancing in the rearview mirror, it is hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since we distributed mobile devices to over 1,000 high school students in a school that had previously policies in place against mobile phones and MP3 players just two years earlier. In fact, the integration of iPads into classrooms went so well that we expanded down to our middle school the following year and added in half of our elementary grades this year. While I am excited that Burlington Public Schools will have iPads for students in all grades at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, I am also anxious about our continued growth as learners. A few years ago we were looked at as a progressive school for our work in deploying mobile devices and allowing our school environment to look more like the real world where access to online resources is ubiquitous. However, just providing access was really the starting point, and as I see other schools still struggle just to get the infrastructure in place to provide the same access I worry about stagnation.

How can we continue to move forward?

Looking at some of the work of Amy Edmondson recently has helped me to frame my thinking a bit. Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has written a great deal about organizational change. She describes four zones for organizations involved in change initiatives in her article titled The Competitive Imperative of Learning:

  1. Apathy Zone
  2. Anxiety Zone
  3. Comfort Zone
  4. Learning Zone

Although my descriptions of the four zones are be a bit different than Edmondson’s, I think that these four zones can be repurposed rather nicely for schools making the move to 1:1 environments.

Apathy Zone

This is where our school was back in 2008-2009 when we did not allow students to bring their cell phones and other mobile devices into our classrooms. Living in the Apathy Zone, means that you give little or no credence to the fact that having students access web-enabled devices could add any value to learning.

Anxiety Zone

There was certainly a sense of accomplishment as we moved beyond our state of denial and embraced the reality that we would be better preparing our students for what they would be facing if we allowed access to mobile devices. However, this move also moved us into the Anxiety Zone, a place where educators run the gamut from the apoplectic few who are still shocked that we would put these gadgets in the hands of every student, to the app-addicted staff members who want to learn about every new app that hits the app store. Of course, our continuous focus on a Professional Development model which focuses on a few foundational web-based resources that can provide easy wins, along with regular time for colleagues to share best practice, provided an exit route from the Anxiety Zone.

Comfort Zone

But there was still trouble ahead because the next stop, the Comfort Zone, is one that can breed complacency and a false sense of security. This is the place where a great deal of reflection is needed to be sure that momentum is not halted. This is our current reality in year three of 1:1 in Burlington. We have a seen many more examples of students being empowered and following their passions to do things that we would not have seen prior to our 1:1 implementation. This was evidenced during the recent New England Student Showcase during the New England 1:1 Summit. However, we still have a lot of work to do in establishing the learner-led environment that will make these types of experiences the reality for all students.

Learning Zone

This transition would put us into the Learning Zone, a place where collaboration and creation is the norm for all learners (both staff and students). This is the place where we stop asking questions like “How often do you integrate technology in the classroom?” and start focusing on the tools of differentiation that can foster endless opportunities for students to show their learning in ways that best suit their learning styles. Of course, the challenge here is allowing staff the same opportunities in their Professional Development so that they can make the connections as learners that will allow them to seek these same options for their students. We can clearly see the Learning Zone on the horizon, our challenge is not to become satisfied with our arrival in the comfort zone.

Stay uncomfortable my friends!

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A Great Conversation On The Technology Concerns Of Parents Regarding 1:1

2 to 1 at Home
photo via Wesley Fryer on Flickr 

As I was playing catchup on my blog reading from the last couple of weeks, I came across a great post from Scott McLeod on the topic of parents choosing to opt out of their students having a device in a 1:1 setting.  The major questions that Scott asks here are certainly ones that have been wrestled with in every school that has implemented a 1:1 program:

“Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?”

When it comes to supporting parents here in Burlington, my typical response is “we own the device, but you own the child.” We need to try to work with parents to help them ensure that they can find the balance of screen-time that they feel is warranted for their children. The problem here, however, is that this is far from a black and white issue due to the fact that most debates on this topic we tend to leave out the purpose of the time that students spend online. Personally, I think there is a difference between a couple of hours spent researching and creating a multi-media project as opposed to a couple of hours spent playing candy crush.

With this in mind, it is imperative that schools communicate with parents in regards to the expectations for device use at home. What tasks will students have to have access to their device to perform? Also, what tasks will students be able to complete with devices that are already at home (and which parents have a better grasp on monitoring)?  The comments on Scott”s post offer some wonderful insights into responding to these issues. One in particular comes from Sandy Kendell, an Educational Technology Specialist in Texas who provided the link to a great blog post Parent Concerns in a 1:1 Initiative. Kendell nails what is at the heart of the issue for parents:

“Keep in mind, the child being able to say, “I’m working on my homework” is somewhat of a game-changer when it comes to supporting and setting limits. How easily could you tell your child to just put the technology away when it could be impacting their grades?”

Sandy’s post is one of the best I have read in regards to the conversations that need to take place in order to support the dramatic change that a 1:1 school can have for parents and students at home. Another must-read link in the comments is to Beth Holland’s post The Balancing Act of Screentime. Beth really gets to the heart of the matter in regards to what we need to ask ourselves concerning device usage and our children by asking three simple questions:

  • Is it Appropriate? 
  • Is it Meaningful? 
  • Is it Empowering?
  • It is definitely worthwhile to read all of the 32 comments from Scott’s post. There is so much more to talk about on this topic.  I particularly like the direction that Lyn Hilt takes the conversation in her comment about ensuring that work assigned as homework (whether on a device or not) is meaningful. However, I’ll leave that for a discussion on another day.

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    Registration Open for the The New England 1:1 Summit (It’s FREE!)

    From the BPS Ed Tech Blog:



    Join us for the New England 1:1 SummitA FREE event from the BPS EdTech Team
    Friday, April 11
    1:1 School Visits at elementary, middle, and high school locations
    Attendees will learn about the 1:1 iPad program in Burlington Public Schools. The Friday session includes a presentation about 1:1 learning environments and best practices for creating the most beneficial educational technology programs. Attendees will also have the opportunity to tour 1:1 classrooms in session with students. The opportunity to visit a 1:1 classroom in action is a powerful way to see what 1:1 learning looks like especially for those educators who have not yet taught in that environment.
    There will be three options for attendees happening at the same time in Burlington – elementary, middle, or high school presentation and classroom visits:
    Francis Wyman Elementary School which is 1:1 iPads in grades 1, 4, and 5.
    Marshall Simonds Middle School which is fully 1:1 iPads in grades 6, 7, and 8.
    Burlington High School which is currently an Apple Distinguished 1:1 iPad School for grades 9-12.
    Saturday, April 12
    The New England 1:1 Summit at Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington
    Join educators from around New England and beyond for the 2014 New England 1:1 Summit. The New England 1:1 Summit was first held in Burlington by the Burlington Public Schools EdTech Team in 2012. The 2012 event was the first educational technology event focused entirely on 1:1 learning environments held in New England. The event had over 450 participants and featured presentations from educators, administrators, and IT professionals.
    The event returns to Burlington this April and will again feature presentations and hands-on learning about technology in the classroom. While the focus is on 1:1 learning, the event is not device specific. Sessions will include discussions about iPads, Chromebooks, PC and Mac laptops, as well as educational applications that help our students succeed and grow.
    The event is FREE and even includes lunch and prizes!

    Top Post #8 – Ignore The iPads! – Looking Back At Year One of 1:1 (with iPads) Part 7

    As I look to unplug a bit during the first week of summer vacation, I am continuing to repost my top posts from last year. Below is #8 from last August.

    The most common question we get regarding our 1:1 initiative (with (iPads) is – What apps do you recommend?

    While I understand that it seems like  a logical question, I hate it. The reason for my disdain is that the focus of educators should be on outcomes first and not on devices or apps.  Before we can answer the app question, we need to have a bit more information about what the goals are for the class and how the teacher would like to facilitate the lesson (i.e. will students work independently or collaboratively).

    So when it comes to the iPad, there are over 225,000 apps in the App Store. I am not going to even get into the discussion that we should stay away from becoming app-dependent and focus on digital resources that are free and will work on an platform. (I’ll leave that for a future post).

    Instead, we’ll stay on the topic of not using technology for technology-sake.  We need to be careful with all of the excitement over bringing shiny new devices into our schools that we do not put gadgets before goals.

    Here’s a post from BHS English/Tech Integration teacher Tim Calvin (@nothingfuture on Twitter) that nails down this point clearly (from

    I ignore iPads. 

    It’s true- I do.  Let’s sort this out, though. 

    I like iPads a lot. They’re not the only decent device anymore, but they’re very good, and they’re not too expensive. Blah blah blah.  I love that my students have a device with them all the time. I can’t imagine teaching without it, at this point. I’d cry (and debate a change in location/profession) if they were taken away or banned. 

    All that said, people keep asking me “how I use the iPads in the classroom.” And the answer- the honest truth in the answer– is that I mostly ignore them. The device isn’t the point. I’d never try to shoehorn a device (or tech of any sort) into a lesson. That’s all sorts of backwards. The tech lubricates the lesson. It allows things that weren’t possible before. It allows things to happen quickly. It smoothes the road. So when I design lessons, I just factor in the myriad things that students can now do. It’s like a bunch more colors got added to my pallet and the pictures I’m painting are that much more vivid. I simply factor into the plan that research/writing/notes/web work can all happen on the fly. That collaboration on an essay is not only possible, but is normal. That data isn’t lost. That the classroom can extend far beyond the 43 minutes I have. 

    But I don’t know that I’ve ever told students to open a specific app. I know I’ve never demanded that they have an app. I know that I don’t really care about the apps that they have- just that they have apps that work for them to accomplish the tasks that I need them to do. 

    I know what I’m talking about here is specific to High School. That’s what I do, and that’s likely to remain the focus here.

    I think this point is relative to all levels and I think it’s something we need to reiterate.

    Thanks Tim!

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    Top Posts # 6 – Looking Back At Year One of 1:1 (With iPads) – Part One

    As I look to unplug a bit during the first week of summer vacation, I am continuing to repost my top posts from last year. Below is #6 from last June.


    As I reflect on our first year as a 1:1 school, I am overwhelmed by the insights that we gained after distributing over 1,000 mobile devices to our students in grades 9-12. As I look at the data from an end-of-the-year survey completed by students, I am reminded of an excerpt from Milton Chen’s book Education Nation – Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools.  Chapter 3 of the book is titled The Technology Edge: Putting Modern Tools in Young Hands.

    There is a great excerpt from the Abilene, Kansas High School Dialogue Buzz Website that sums up what we will do for students when we create a 1:1 environment for our students

    Here’s the excerpt:

    Let’s have a little competition at school and get ready for the future. I will use a laptop and you will use paper and pencil. Are you ready…?

    • I will access up-to-date information – you have a textbook that is 5 years old. 
    • I will immediately know when I misspell a word – you have to wait until it’s graded. 
    • I will learn how to care for technology by using it – you will read about it. 
    • I will see math problems in 3D – you will do the odd problems. 
    • I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world – you will share yours with the class. 
    • I will have 24/7 access – you have the entire class period. 
    • I will access the most dynamic information – yours will be printed and photocopied. 
    • I will communicate with leaders and experts using email – you will wait for Friday’s speaker. 
    • I will select my learning style – you will use the teacher’s favorite learning style. 
    • I will collaborate with my peers from around the world – you will collaborate with peers in your classroom. 
    • I will take my learning as far as I want – you must wait for the rest of the class.

     The cost of a laptop per year? – $250

    The cost of teacher and student training? – Expensive

    The cost of well educated US citizens and workforce? – Priceless

    How important are the above bullets? By what criteria would you measure success in a 1:1 initiative?

    I will be sharing the results of the student survey soon.

    Top Post #5 – Who Cares About Devices!?

    This post was written back in April and was cross-posted on EdTechTeacher

    So I received the tweet below from a friend in Iowa this morning:

    Being one of the first schools in our region to go all in on iPads at the high school level, I am always interested in reading the perspectives of others on this topic.  I think that there are a number of questions that need to be addressed for schools thinking about increasing the number of devices in their classrooms or moving towards a 1:1 program.  The post referenced in the tweet by my friend Jimmy, a high school Principal in Iowa, is worth a read for people looking at investing in iPads (or going 1:1 with any device).

    The post, Why most K-12 schools aren’t ready for the iPad Revolution, cites four reasons that most schools are not prepared to purchase iPads for all students.  The four reasons cited by the author, Mike Reiners (CEO of Nomad), are as follows:

    1. Teaching requires planning.
    2. Consider where we’re spending our education dollars.
    3. The iPad is primarily a consumption device.
    4. Our students should be mobile multilingual.
    Below are my thoughts on each of the points.

    Teaching requires planning

    Yes, I could not agree more. Our Superintendent is fond of saying, “Teaching is hard and Technology used to be hard. But even though the technology has gotten easier, the teaching is still hard and it will always be hard.”  Despite the fact that the technology is easier, the sheer number of resources available when you add web-enabled devices to the mix can be overwhelming.  I agree with Reiners point that thought and consideration and support are needed so that teachers have opportunities to prepare for this shift. In Burlington, we spend a year and a half before we had iPads teaching staff members about a variety of digital tools that they would be able to access and integrate into their curricular areas with any mobile device. We also focused on resources that we thought would save teachers time and could potentially increase student engagement.

    Consider where we’re spending our education dollars

    This consideration is one that we actually utilized to help us purchase our devices in Burlington. I am pretty sure that many schools do not spend enough time looking at what they are spending their money on now. What are some of the annually purchases that we make that we just don’t think about? (i.e. paper, printers, textbooks, computers, etc.) Our purchase of the iPads saved us in the vicinity of $100,000 due to the fact that we were looking at new options for a Foreign Language Lab and that does not take into consideration that most schools also add a para-professional to the mix to help maintain such a lab. We were also able to stop our annual expenditures on maintaining other labs in the building that were used primarily for word processing and research since the purchase of the devices allowed us to have this access in every classroom. Add in the fact, that we are no longer making large-scale textbook purchases for a course and we were well on our way to the amount needed to purchase our devices.

    The iPad is primarily a consumption device

    I’ve heard this one over and over, but I agree with the words of Scott Meech who hit on this topic a while back during the 2011 K-12 Online Conference in his session on “Purposeful Play:”

    “Many argue that the iPad is the premiere consumption device at this time but it isn’t very good at creating. Is that accurate? I tend to believe that the iPad is an amazingly creative device and the user is the only limit for the device.”

    Adam Webster also wrote a post on Edudemic a while back titled 5 Reasons The iPad Will Stay King Of The Classroom in which he stated:

    “The iPad, its workflow and its apps, allow for real change and makes it easy. Your students will create work that not only wasn’t possible before their innovative use of the technology, but that you as their teacher had never even thought of.”

    Our students should be mobile multilingual 

    This definitely should be the goal for our students and I touched on this idea in a post back in January titled Is The iPad King? It Is For Us And That’s All That Matters (For Now). My concluding statement in the post was – “While I believe that we have made the best decision for our school today, things change quickly and we need to create organizational and individual flexibility to adapt to these changes when they occur.” 

    Royan Lee wrote a wonderful post on this topic about a month ago on his blog titled “Why Mish-Mash Is Better Than 1:1.”  In the post he noted:

    “I prefer teaching with the limitations of no class sets, because it means we’re constantly reflecting on the merits of each tool for the given purpose.”

    The bottom line is that we need to make sure that the adults in the schools are modeling the flexibility and adaptability in their practice that our students are going to need to have to be successful. All of us who work in schools know that this is can be difficult since change is not something common in our traditional educational system and we have grown comfortable with many tools, workflows, and practices that are long outdated. 

    In fact, the most important statement made in the post by Reiners is the one at the end which notes:

    In summary, let’s think about what we’re doing. Blind, quick-trigger actions in education, especially expensive and invasive ones, have historically disastrous results.

    I find this a bit ironic considering that some would say that we are exactly in this place with our mandated standardized testing and the development of the common core, two things that have certainly been expensive and invasive. While I could speculate on the results, that is probably best left for a future post.

    The bottom line is that we don’t need any new devices in our schools, what we really need is new thinking in regards to our purpose for having schools. Any implementation of new gadgets and gizmos which strives to simply integrate them into our “traditional system” with teacher-focused learning environments instead of learner-centered environments is destined to have “disastrous results.”
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