Tony Perez of the Atlanta Girls School: How can standing in place be interactive – or – how we sold our interactive boards and redefined our classrooms.
I saw Tony speak at the last iPad Summit and today was eager to hear more about what the Atlanta Girls School was doing. I love the fact that Tony starts out this discussion by being honest – that this was not an easy transition, and in fact he categorizes it as a “tale of whoa,” at least in its early stages. The Atlanta Girls school is a young school that began as a wireless school, so it started out in an innovative framework and continues on that path today. The reason that they are able to do what they want to do is because they have a top down model of using and integrating technology. Tony shares the fact that they do not make technology changes without real, pedagogical and curricular reasons to do so. As much as we may be "gadget people," we need to have a reason to implement change. Tony says that in 2009, he was told “the Promethean board is the most under utilized technology resource we own.” They had made a huge financial investment for Promethean boards, though they require a sophisticated skill set for ready application in the classroom. As such, many educators were not using them. Teachers felt as though they did not have the time to self-train, master the complex software suite, and then update lessons when the software updated (sometimes making them obsolete). I feel his pain here. I’ve never been a Smart Board or Promethean Board fan for this very reason. As iPad evolved to incorporate cameras and mirroring, Tony found that it could take on the roles that the Promethean Board was meant to fill. Though it initially "wasn’t quite there" because of the need to be tethered via the HDMI cable, in 2012, the new iOS 5 unlocked content from iPad and provided the portability, versatility, and creativity that he needed for his school. He then showed us this amazing NAIS viral video made by his students: Not only does it provide great information about how girls learn best, but it also demonstrates the creativity and research capacities of iPad. As a result of the wireless elements of iPad, coupled with Apple TV, the classroom makeup and construction began to change. At the same time, AGS felt that their students were falling behind in terms of technology. They had once been a beacon of technological innovation but now felt as though they were floundering. Why? As a faculty, they decided that the issue was the “centralized” teacher via the interactive whiteboard. Removing the board from the front of the room also removed the teacher from the front, allowing them to move around, lower their voices, talk with students, and focus on the individuals. Ultimately, the school decided that the Promethean Board did not support a student centered and collaborative learning environment. So… why do we have them? Tony then approached the administration, board, and donors. He explained why it was time to get rid of the Promethean board with the curriculum and pedagogy as the key rationale for the decision! Putting teaching and learning first is critical when approaching any broad and wide change. The school made the decision to get rid of the Promethean Board and replace them with Apple TVs. Educators are no longer tied to the front of the room with their laptops (Mountain Lion will stream to Apple TV) or iPads supporting the creation of the ideal learning environment. It also wasn’t a hard sell when Promethean Boards cost about $4,000 each and an Apple TV classroom is about $1,500. In schools, we all know that money talks. By decentralizing the classroom, teachers found that it freed up the white board, promoted collaboration, allowed the teacher to work more one-on-one, and supported their overall vision of authentic learning. For the majority of the educators, this was a truly freeing experience. In the summer of 2012, they sold off their Promethean Boards and ordered all of their hardware. Sadly, shipping was heavily delayed… until mid-September. A scrambled new hardware plan resulted in last minute, late night installs. It seems like a painful experience. Because of this, training was delayed and not as in depth as they originally planned. Tony also ran into problems with the wireless network communicating with the iPad - resulting in disastrous early months. To correct the connection issues, they hardwired the Apple TVs onto the network. They also discovered that other schools were having the same problem. The fix required a new access point in each classroom. As the year continued, they doubled access points in the densest points and hard wired where necessary. The problems have essentially disappeared but they occasionally still have problems. By replacing the Promethean boards with iPads and Apple TVs, Tony found that teachers not only interact and partner more with their students in learning, but also that the space physically looks and feels different as the students sense that the teacher is alongside them in their learning. Tony emphasizes that if you decide to make any drastic change, you have to understand the why. You need to support your faculty with robust professional development. Additionally, you have to ensure that your wireless network and system will work. Know what success looks like in your school and then aim for it. You can view Tony's presentation materials – as well as those from other presenters – on the iPad Summit web site.