EdTechTeacher Co-Founder kicks off the 2016 South African iPad Summit with his keynote, Building the iPad Teacher: Thinking Beyond the Device.

Tom begins by telling a story about going on a game drive after the last iPad Summit and how it evoked a desire to explore South Africa even more.  In fact, he asks the first question of the audience based off of that notion – where are you going? Tom has had numerous conversations over the past few years with school administrators and discusses the evolution of their iPad programs. Each of these schools is in a different place with regards to the cycle of their iPad program, and in each case, the administrators want to know what’s next? In many cases, the administrators express frustration with setbacks or how to move the program forward. With each of these conversations, the focus often revolves around faculty and their use of the devices.

While on a game drive this year, Tom started to realize that the animals he witnessed often displayed many of the characteristics as these administrators used to describe their faculties. First, Tom describes the early adopters in the school. These are the honey badgers. A honey badger is fearless, much like the early adopter. No matter what happens, these early adopters keep moving forward. Another interesting aspect of early adopters is that they are not afraid of the administration. A honeybadger will try to take down a lion, and an early adopter will proceed regardless of the support of the school leadership. The fearless attitude, willingness to fail, and the ability to rebound characterizes the early adopter group.

The next group that Tom describes are the people that hang back at first and then might start to embrace a tool, app, or strategy after they see it already adopted by the first group. This reminded Tom of the Jackal – the animal that hangs back. The jackal watches. This group hangs back and waits to adopt what has been proven successful. The third group Tom describes are the naysayers, obstructionist, groups who vocally criticize any attempt to integrate technology in the service of learning. These are the people willing to butt heads with colleagues and administrators to make their unhappiness uncertain. This is the group that blames the technology rather than embraces it. The key, Tom says, is the group in the middle. They are typically the largest group and the one to target.

Why iPads?

Tom asks the audience if they can explain, in two sentences or less, if anyone can explain why their school adopted iPads. Only about three people raised their hands. Tom explains that he has been in schools with major endowments who have invested in technology, infrastructure, and coaching; and yet, they ask Tom why they do not see the type of advances that they have noticed in other places. Again, Tom asks, why iPads? How are the devices intended to change student learning?

When making the decision to purchase the device, Tom asks the administrators how they envisioned learning to look in the next five years. Most leaders cannot answer this question.

If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know if you’ve arrived?

In most cases, they never have the discussion of what they wanted students to be able to do. At one school, Tom was interviewing various teachers who all expressed gratitude for the technology and support but also confusion about why they had the devices in the first place. Putting devices into the hands of students and teachers with no learning goal seems baffling. They often have no vision and no plan for how to evaluate success. This practice would not happen in business.

Plan for Learning. Not technology.

The biggest indicator of success in schools, Tom says, is planning for learning and then asking how the technology aligns with the learning. In 2012, Tom went to the Academy of Singaporean Teachers – the professional development arm of Singapore education. During that time, he sat with ministry officials, educators, and administrators to provide a report on educational technology. In one visit to a “future school,” Tom tells the story of talking about desks with the Director of Technology. By examining the desks, and the way that they could be flexibly used, the mission of the school became clear: collaboration. In another instance, Tom sat with a group of science teachers who began the conversation with, “how can we enhance and support student collaboration.” From there, they discussed the available tools and technologies – not the other way around. The goal is to use technology

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From there, they discussed the available tools and technologies – not the other way around. The goal is to use technology in the service of learning. The two goals of the Singaporean Education Ministry are collaboration and self-directed learning. When Tom asked why, the response was “because it is essential to our survival as a civilization.” In many instances, Tom visits schools that list multiple goals. It’s “planting 1,000 flowers and hoping that one will bloom.” No unifying or galvanizing mission drives all teacher efforts. In Singapore, they have a single mantra that all educators know: teach less, learn more. A mantra, rather than a mission statement, is a single, action-oriented statement. So, what’s your mantra?

Tom then projects a picture of a wall from a school in Vancouver, Canada. The principal explained to Tom that students write on the wall whatever topic may interest them. In the mornings, students attend traditional classes. However, in the afternoons, they delve deeply into whatever topic they wrote on the wall. The teachers work with students to craft an essential question that could then drive an inquiry project. Students could then share their learning however they choose, with the guidance of the teacher. When Tom asked the principal to define their learning objective, the answer was passion based learning. The principal explained that they wanted students to follow their passions, ask questions, want to learn, and to elicit their interests.

In a final example, Tom shows an image from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. The principal, Chris Lehmann, begins each year by bringing the entire faculty into one room and asks, “what do you expect your students to do by the end of the year?” In other words, he prompts the faculty to articulate a mission for the year so that they can measure progress towards their learning goals. After that, he asks the faculty to create a rubric to be used across all classes. The teachers then have to discover the commonalities across age levels and disciplines to generate a few actionable learning goals.

The successful schools stop and ask “what do we want our students to do?” They understand the answer to why iPads.

Align Instruction with Mission

Once you have learning goals and rubrics, then you can start to build a community around those shared objectives. Tom then shows a picture of Springboks standing in a herd. He explains that when they first approached the herd, all of them were looking in different directions. However, after watching for a while, they observed the herd communicate and eventually all move in the same direction.

Tom said that watching the herd reminded him of rewriting the mission statement in his school. They spent inordinate time hashing out each phrase and ensuring that they knew the goals of the community. After having all of the discussions, as soon as the leadership made a decision then the faculty (the herd) all understood the reasoning. When the community understands the mission and the objectives, then the faculty will follow the leadership.

The ultimate goal is then to come up with a vision, make sure that it is communally agreed upon, make sure that it is actionable and measurable, and then develop a mantra.

How do we reach all learners?

“Where do we begin?” Asks Tom. Teachers understand that not all students learn the same way. If there has been one educational reform in the United States, it is the fundamental understanding that not all students learn the same way. For Tom, it’s about understanding how we let students access content and demonstrate their understanding. iPads allow students to have a variety of options for engaging with information through various modalities. This creates more opportunities for students to learn.

The other major value of iPads is the ability to create content. This ties back into the idea of the revised Bloom’s Technology. Creating is the ultimate higher order thinking skill. iPads provide students with unlimited options for demonstrating their mastery.

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What do you want your students to be able to do? Tom shares our EdTechTeacher iPad App Recommendations as a way to get started. He encourages teachers to start with the learning goals, identify the assessment tasks, determine how students might demonstrate their master, and then think about the tools.

He then tells a story about working with a group of language teachers in Florida. In this workshop, the teachers expected him to show a list of apps. Instead, Tom said, “what do you want your students to do?” The teachers explained that they wanted students to demonstrate mastery of vocabulary. Tom then asked, “how would you know if the students had attained mastery?” Instead of starting with apps, they began with purpose.

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Tom explains that in most EdTechTeacher workshops, we use – at most – half a dozen apps. In most successful schools, the teachers have agreed upon a core set of apps to use across the curriculum. We use a few flexible tools, like Explain Everything and Book Creator, so that the conversation can focus on how tools help to attain learning goals rather than which app to consider using.

Over the next few days, Tom explains that we will be looking at the practicality of these concepts. At how we define learning objectives, work with modalities, and build a vision for how iPad integration will be aligned with your mission.


Come learn with Tom this Summer or join any of our iPad Summer Workshops


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