Essential rules for effectively using iPads in middle school classrooms

MathBoard is  just one of thousands of effective apps for the classroom.

MathBoard is just one of thousands of effective apps for the classroom.

In the two years of being a principal of a school that has been using iPads on a 1:1 device to student ratio, I have learned a lot about classroom rules that are needed to ensure that the iPads are an effective learning tool rather than a learning distraction.

If managed properly, iPads offer amazing benefits to learning and are almost limitless classroom tools.  However, if not properly managed, iPads can also be a detriment to classroom learning and be a major distraction for students.

During my time using the iPads in the classrom, I have found the following 11 rules to be essential for keeping the iPads as a learning tool and not a learning distraction.

Keep in mind that the use of the iPads is always communicated at our school as a privilege and not a right. This privilege is earned by making proper use of the iPads and can be lost if the iPads are misused.

1.  Stick with the Class

When iPads are used in class for a specific purpose, the students must be in the correct app and following along with the class. Students that enter into different apps or goof around with the iPad know that they will lose the privilege of using the iPad and will then be left to observe a partner making use of the iPad for the remainder of the class.

2. Sound

Students are told that, unless we are specifically using the sound for class, the sound switch on the iPads should always be switched to mute. This prevents accidentally starting an app or game with sound and having it be a distraction to the rest of the class. If headphones are available, students must plug in the headphones prior to turning off the mute switch. (We purchased earbud headphones for all of our students and they have worked well.)

3. Respect the Files of Others

When using the iPads, it is inevitable that students will come across files started by other students. Students must be taught to respect the digital property of others. They are told not to wreck, use, or read the files of others without permission. If a file is open when they begin using an iPad, students need to be taught to quit the app or save the file. Most files save automatically on an iPad, so simply quitting the app is usually the best route to follow. If a student is found to have tampered with the file of another student, it results in a loss of their ability to use the iPads for free time.

4. Use of iPads During Free Time

I do allow students to use the iPads during free time, but rules do need to be clearly set before this is allowed. Because the temptation is there for students to rush on their work in order to make use of the iPads, I do insist that the student asks for permission before using the iPad during a free time or study hall. I often first ask to see the student’s completed work before giving the ok to grab an iPad.

I am very specific about what activities are acceptable on the iPad during free time. I give them a list of certain apps they may use that day. The best way to do this is to make a folder of apps on the iPad and title that folder “Free Time.” This makes it very clear what apps are to be used if all homework is completed.

An example of the "Free Time" folder from one of our school's iPads.

An example of the “Free Time” folder from one of our school’s iPads.

 

Remember that a folder is created on the iPad simply by dragging two apps together on the screen. Hold the picture of an app till all the apps start to “jiggle”. Once they are jiggling, you are able to drag them around the screen or on top of each other to form a folder.

5. Use of the Internet

Using the Safari internet browsing app on the iPad, students do have access to the internet at all times. Specific sites can be blocked by adjusting the settings on your wireless router, but strict ground rules do need to be set for internet use.

Unless I have specifically instructed the students to go onto the internet for a class activity, the students do know that they need to ask for permission to go anywhere on the internet. When I am asked for permission, I ask them to be very specific with me as to what sites they will be using and why. The students know that they need to stick to the sites they told me they were going to use. Failure to follow these rules results in losing free time privileges with the iPad. If I a too busy to be able to occasionally monitor the students during their time on the internet, I do not grant the privilege.

Putting the Safari app in an “Ask for Permission” or “Class Time Only” app folder helps students to remember to ask before using the internet.

6. Specific Sites and Apps Not Allowed at School

I do not allow the students to use social networking apps or their personal email while at school.  The big name sites of these types are blocked via our wireless router.  There are also some apps, such as the built in YouTube app, that I do not want the students using during school hours (unless we are using it for a class). Make sure to be clear about which apps or websites are not allowed. Again, creating a folder of apps that you do not wish the students to use without permission is beneficial. Naming this folder “Ask for Permission” or “Not for School Use” makes this very clear.

An example of a "Not for Use" iPad folder that helps students know off limit apps.

An example of a “Not for Use” iPad folder that helps students know off limit apps.

7. Use of the Camera and Photo Booth Apps

Two of the biggest potential distractions of the iPad are the Camera app and Photo Booth app. Both of these apps allow photos to be taken and manipulated for fun. These apps are off limit to students unless we are using them for class. Students tend to want to goof around with these apps and share their funny photos with classmates. This can cause students to distract others during class or study hall. Using either of these apps without permission results in losing iPad privileges.  I keep the camera app in an app folder titled “Class Use Only” and the Photo Booth app in a folder titled “Not for Use”.

I have a specific counter in my room where all iPads must be stored when not in use. I learned the hard way that this was important. One evening after school, I frantically searched for almost an hour for a missing iPad. After nearly having a heart attack and imagining it being stolen, lost, or broken, I found the iPad inside a student’s desk.

To avoid issues like this and keep iPads from being stepped on, piled under heavy books, or misplaced, I insist that iPads are placed on a specific counter any time they are not in use. Failure to do so in my classroom results in lost iPad privileges.

Always having the iPads in a specific counter in the room allows me to do a quick iPad count at the conclusion of each class period before dismissing the students.  This way I know the iPads are all accounted for before we send students in the hallways and other rooms.

9. Immediately Stopping When It’s Time to Move On

I found out very quickly that students want to keep using the iPads, even when it is time to store them away and move onto something else. When I announce that iPads need to go away, I give ten seconds for the iPads to be shut off and placed in the correct storage location. Failure to do so results in lost privileges.

I guarantee that in the early use of the iPads, at least one student will want to quickly finish the last level of an educational game or put a few more brush strokes on their iPad artwork before putting it away.

However, being consistent in removing a student’s iPad privilege when they fail to listen immediately when its time to put the iPad away will quickly solve this issue. Counting out loud to signal a transition time works well for getting the iPads quickly turned off and away.  Students have learned quickly to stop asking me whether or not they can finish typing a sentence, finish the current level they are on in a game, or complete another activity before putting the iPad away.

10. When the iPad Becomes a Distraction

I let the students know that, if I feel the iPad is becoming a distraction, I have the right to ask them to put it away. Students are
told that the free time use of the iPad cannot be allowed to distract students who have homework from their work.

They know that, if I feel that a student is using an iPad in a way that distracts another student (wanting to show a picture to someone, or yelling out during a game, or making a funny drawing and causing classmates to laugh out loud by showing it off), I will ask that the iPad be put away and the privilege to use it is lost for the remainder of that study hall (or longer if the issue has been a common occurrence).

One phrase I like to use with my students is, “Let’s focus on making the iPad learning tools and not learning distractions.” I emphasize regularly that the more responsibility the students show with the iPad, the more often I will feel confident to use them for more classroom activities and free time.

This Virtual Manipulatives app is another awesome app for math that makes the iPad a great learning tool.

This Virtual Manipulatives app is another awesome app for math that makes the iPad a great learning tool.

11. Leave the Background Picture Alone

Because it can be a distraction when the students change the background “wallpaper” of the iPad, I ask that this is left alone. Occasionally I will allow the students to change the wallpaper for fun and let them choose from the standard, Apple provided choices. Otherwise, this is not to be changed.

Consistency is the Key!

The key with all the rules you come up with is to be consistent. The students will test you with what they are allowed to do with the iPads during the first few weeks of having them in the classroom. Clearly communicating the rules and being firm and consistent in following them will ensure that the iPads are a benefit to the classroom and not a distraction.

Teachers, please feel free to share any additional helpful rules or ideas you have found for effectively managing iPad use in the classroom in the comments!

 

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