Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bring Your Own

Last year, in the first year of our “Go Wireless-Bring Your Own” initiative, roughly 200 students brought their own technology devices to school to enhance and personalize their learning. That’s like adding about eight new computer labs to our schools every day.
-Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

My oldest son started middle school at South View this fall.

For me, for a variety of reasons, there is no sentence long enough to hold “my son” and “middle school” far enough apart, no way to see those words juxtaposed without feeling a piercing dagger of fear in my gut. For my son, middle school is mostly exciting, offering more freedom, more autonomy, more class choices. We've shared a secret weapon as we’ve made the transition to middle school together. It’s an iPad.

Focusing our energy on the iPad got us through those nervous few days before school started. (In our house, the anxiousness was exacerbated rather than soothed by the sixth grade WEB orientation day. I wonder how many other students would have preferred a more soothing alternative to the frenetic activity, the blaring music, students screaming through portable speakers?) My son and I attended a “Go Wireless” orientation meeting and got a sticker to make his iPad officially OK to bring to school.  We scouted out a heavy-duty protective cover; we bought a backpack with a computer sleeve. We picked the best calendar app, one able to accommodate A and B days, and got his schedule entered and color-coded. We added his teachers’ email addresses and websites. We found the best note-taking app and tried it out, including the recording feature. When I dropped him off for that first day of school, me white-knuckling the steering wheel, he clutching the iPad, I think we were both grateful for its glowing aura of sleek sophistication.

In the first couple of weeks of school, the iPad has proven every bit the revolutionary tool I had hoped it would be for my son. Didn’t write down the assignment? No problem: go to the team website, where most teachers post the day’s assignments. (Thank you, teachers! You have no idea how much of elementary school we spent trying to find/remember/locate/reconstruct the assignment, versus doing the assignment itself.)  Forgot your reading book for language arts? No sweat: download something free on iBooks. Left the print-out of your assignment at home? Not a problem: email it to your teacher before you leave class. Staying late for play auditions, and not sure when you’ll be ready for a ride home? OK. Just FaceTime me when you’re done.

Of course there have been bumps along the way. My son would appreciate access to his math book online—it would save pounds of backpack weight, not to mention the worry of being sure that he has the textbook home on the correct night to do the homework. However, the online version of the textbook requires Flash, irritatingly not available on the iPad. One day, during student presentations in class, my son lost focus and gave in to the temptation.  He put the iPad on his lap, slouched down, turned it on, and tried to sneak a few minutes of screen time. His alert and sensitive teacher helped him get back on track, asking him to keep the iPad on top of his desk “to improve his posture.”(If only I were as subtle and encouraging at home. I am working on it.)

As the school year goes on, I’m looking forward to hearing how he’s using the iPad for more collaborative, creative assignments, like the one featured here.  But for now, this piece of technology, this Linus security blanket, performs miracles enough.

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