Classroom Management & Organization in an iPad World

Last year was the first full year that my 8th grade students all were issued an iPad. Up to that point, I was one of a handful of teachers who got to experiment with classroom sets. There were definitely some challenges with sharing the sets (mostly issues with Google accounts being logged in at the same time), but overall it was an enjoyable experience.

I must say, though, that once those individual iPads were distributed, I was excited! There were a lot of growing pains—mostly for the students learning to troubleshoot—but there were also a lot of things I had to take a step back and reevaluate from a teaching perspective. I was pretty well versed in troubleshooting technical problems, but there were a lot of other details to consider when every kid had one in his hands at all times.

Some of those reflective moments lead me to make some policies, procedures, and (unfortunately) consequences that I hope will improve my classroom this year. Since I’ve had this year of experience, here are five of my takeaways and answers to questions I’ve been asked the most.

  1. What do you do when a student’s iPad is dead or they don’t bring a charger?

    1. I spent a lot of time wrestling with myself over this last year. If a student can’t bring a pencil to class, don’t fool yourself into thinking they’ll bring a charged iPad every day either. It’s just reality.

      Part of my job is to teach students life skills, and part of life is performing a job well and as expected. Enter my dreaded TARDY SHEET. My definition of “tardy” goes beyond just walking in after the bell rings. If you come to class without material and have to immediately go back to your locker to get it (a book, an iPad charger, whatever), then you are going to come back late. In addition, if I have to stop class to give you an extra iPad or charger, we are then wasting everyone’s time, not just that student’s.

      Therefore, any time my students are late or don’t have the book, iPad, or charger (if they need it), they sign in as being tardy. I keep this tardy sign-in sheet on my door on bright pink paper. Every few days I go through the paper and record the names on a Google Sheet. It is color-coded, so I can keep track of when consequences are assigned. Yellow means the consequence was assigned; green means the consequence was served on time; red means the consequence was not served, and a referral was sent to the office. Per our school policy, after your 3rd, 4th, and 5th tardy, you are assigned detention. (This is where it comes back to my own classroom; I’m one of the few who follows through on this pretty religiously.) If a student fails to serve the detention after two days, he is assigned in-school suspension (ISS). After your 6th tardy, again, per school policy, you are assigned ISS for one day.

      Needless to say, the students hate it, but they learned pretty quickly that I meant business. In the end, it was usually the same kids forgetting repeatedly. I think the policy was pretty successful in encouraging the majority to be responsible. The only downside to this policy is the enforcement. If you don’t follow through with it regularly, then you will surely receive pushback from both students and parents. At the end of the day, though, you always have the original record sheet with the student’s signature on it documenting the offense(s). You can see what my templates look like below.

  2. What to do when there are no extra iPads?

    1. Just as students forget their textbooks, they will forget their iPads and chargers. I was lucky to have a project funded through a few years ago to get three iPad Minis. They are a bit outdated now and don’t allow me to control them remotely, but they do the trick.

      So, what do you do if you don’t have the luxury of having some extras on hand? At the beginning of each day, I make a few paper copies of whatever the assignments are that are expected to be completed digitally. If it’s a group assignment, I’ll try to have the student without the device partner up with someone else. Depending on what it is, I may or may not dock participation points for the assignment or, at the very least, include a category for preparation/participation on the rubric.

      Another thing I did do to curb the no-iPad issue was purchase some extra-long charging cables to keep in my classroom closet. After they sign the tardy sheet, students check out the charger from me with old school library cards that are affixed to the boxes. The library card system also allows me to keep track of whether the cables are returned to me. I found out very early in the year that charging cables could probably be sold on the middle school black market for a billion dollars since all of mine went missing immediately.

  3. What the heck is a QR code, and why/how would I use it?

    • A QR code is essentially a funny looking square barcode that you attach to a URL. You access the link by using a QR reader app (or Google Chrome!). You can link to things like YouTube videos, websites, documents, an Instagram account—you name it. These are awesome to use with the iPads or other mobile devices because you can incorporate them into so many different lessons and activities.
    • Stations: One of the first ways I used this was group stations when we did a jigsaw activity about The Diary of Anne Frank. This allowed me to link to various information sources without revealing what the station was about and without having to make tons of copies. I’d print out the QR codes, hang them around the room, and have students rotate. Some went to YouTube videos with Holocaust survivors, some went to the 3D interactive tour of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, etc. This works really well for math courses, too, allowing the teacher to not leave answer keys lying around. The students can come scan the code to check their work. Genius!
    • Classroom library checkout: I struggle with loaning out my own classroom library books because they inevitably never come back. My solution last year was for students to fill out a traditional library card and give it to me, but they also scan a QR code hanging by both of my bookshelves to check out the book digitally. Then, if the book goes missing, I can turn in those records to the bookkeeper.

    • Escape room games: I got myself a BreakoutEDU kit last year, and it is SO much fun! Some of the clues for each game always end up being linked to QR codes, which requires students to work together with limited technology to solve the puzzles. If you don’t have a Breakout game for your classroom, I totally suggest you get one! The kids LOVE it.
  4. What do I do when a student is not on task on the iPad?

    1. If you haven’t used Apple Classroom on your iPads, RUN to your nearest app store and download it pronto. My school corporation manages it for us and syncs it with our class rosters, but you can still use it in the “ad-hoc” mode even if you only have a few iPads in a classroom set. You can remotely control the iPads, lock students in apps, redirect them to an app, and much more. It also gives you a handy report when you “end” a class to see what apps every student used and exactly what times they were on it. If you want to see more of what Apple Classroom can do, click here. 

      Another fun feature if you use the Google apps is to pull up a student’s document as they are working on it in real time and put it up on the projector. This can be for both positive reinforcement (showing awesome student examples) as well as a little peer pressure by showing when someone isn’t as far along as others. Obviously, that could potentially be controversial—you don’t want to purposely embarrass a student. So, what I do is show the student’s work, first point out what they have done well already, then ask for peer feedback to help them improve on weak/missing areas. If you show both good examples and ones that need work “randomly”, the kids will never know the difference. I’ve found that it is helpful to the struggling students to see when other students are producing great work to nudge them in the right direction.

      Of course, if a student is repeatedly off task and does nothing but watch Fortnite or makeup tutorial videos on YouTube, TAKE THE iPAD. Especially if it’s a school-issued device. If you have a back-up paper copy in place for the lesson, then there’s no reason the student can’t continue on without the distraction. Sometimes I feel like teachers are so worried about the backlash of a student running home to his parents that we fail to do what we know is common sense. If a student has a toy, you’d take it, right? The iPad is no different.

  5. Do you have any other secrets to making technology work in the classroom?

    1. Lie. 

      I teach middle school, so I have the luxury of still being in that in-between phase of students believing everything their teachers tell them. Sure, your administration truly might be able to access student browsing records (ours can and do when necessary). But there’s no harm in putting a little extra fear in them with harmless “threats”.

      One of my favorite “lies” from last year was when one of my teacher friends told all of her classes that all 8th grade teachers would print out their Apple Classroom reports at the end of each period and turn them into our principal. It was half-true; we can see every app they were on and at what time during the period, and we do have the ability to print out the reports… but we definitely don’t have to turn them in. The students were all tattling on each other after the first day or two to make sure the class didn’t get in trouble.

At the end of the day, it may be 2018, but in many ways it’s not that different from 10-20 years ago. The only real way to make sure your students are on task is to be present, and let them know it!

Use management apps like Apple Classroom if you can, but nothing works quite as well as standing awkwardly close to a student and letting them feel your eyes watching or seeing them out of the corner of your eye as they try to slyly switch apps when you walk across the room. Address the behavior, let them know it’s not acceptable, and move on.

Lastly, and most important, technology isn’t going to do your job for you. We are here to teach students and engage them in meaningful ways. If they really want to learn what you’re teaching because it’s presented in an interesting way (maybe with technology, maybe not), then the classroom management part takes care of itself.

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