ipads tech device

Why my students are real world-ready with nothing but a device

My paperless, real-world classroom uses just an iPad, software, and the internet; and my fourth- and fifth-graders are thriving.

[Editor’s note: Award-winning science teacher Anthony Johnson, whose real-world ‘Johnsonville’ approach article was a viral hit, delves further into how his students use their devices in every lesson, every day.]

Just as few modern-day workers could function in their jobs without a cellphone, a laptop, or periodic trips to Google, I want my students to learn how to solve problems using devices that will likely be similar to ones they will encounter for the rest of their lives.

I strongly believe in the power of technology to transform learning and the lives of my students. In fact, I’m not sure where my classroom would be without it. My school is fortunate enough to have gone 1:1 with iPads, and I challenge my students to use their devices in every lesson, every project, and every experience we share as a class.

As mentioned in my previous article about Johnsonville, my classroom simulates adulthood through immersive project-based learning. Students get jobs, manage personal and classroom finances, and manage complex relationships between clients and suppliers—all while trying to turn a profit. And they do it all without using a single sheet of paper, because Johnsonville is a paperless town. There are no notebooks and few pens. Even our Discovery Science TechBooks are on their iPads.

Our LMS, Schoology, is as much of a hub as Google Drive, and it’s where students come to collaborate with each other when they’re not in the same room. There’s fierce competition in my class to sell products and improve the economy, so the kids will use any means necessary to undercut competitors and make business relationships, both online and off.

For some teachers, the paperless classroom might seem a bit scary, but I’ve found it’s actually less work. I don’t have to grade papers one at a time or store them in a file cabinet. I don’t even have a teacher’s desk in the classroom. All I need is my Macbook Air and access to the internet. The kids take it for granted that I’m always available and send me Schoology messages late into the evening. Even as I write this, school let out 45 minutes ago and I can see them still having classroom discussions. When it snowed a few weeks ago, we technically missed two days of school. I don’t flip my classroom often, but on those two days I made videos for them to watch and then we talked about them after (virtually, of course).

Building Skills for Life

Having an iPad for every student allows for self-paced and individualized learning, letting them set their own appropriate learning goals, evaluate their progress, and stay engaged with all the materials they need to go through on a weekly basis. For their businesses, they might create reports in the Pages app and presentations using Keynote, maintain spreadsheets with Numbers (which they also use to keep track of their grades), and maintain a separate electronic portfolio.

On the creative side, they love to use iMovie and other related apps to showcase their scriptwriting and visual skills, and GarageBand steps as they produce audio stories based on historical events. Some students are even creating interactive electronic books and publishing them to the iTunes Store (and earning huge Johnsonville incentives).

One thing I insist on is that the kids check their Google calendars every day, the same way I do. My principal sends out meeting requests for pretty much the whole school year straight to our calendars, and I do the same thing with my students. When there’s a test or a project due, they know there’s no excuse for not knowing about it. If they start to get busy, they set reminders for themselves just like an adult might. These are lifelong organization habits that will serve them long after they leave my classroom, or school altogether.

Mostly, though, there’s not a whole lot to remember to bring, except the iPad of course. When they forget it (or forget to charge it), they get taxed, because they’re likely to be less productive than usual that day. The parents recognize that, too, and make an effort to help their kids.

(Next page: Selling parents on the device classroom; designing a paperless classroom)

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