I recently got a question from a corps member in Colorado who has a new set of iPads to use in her classroom. She wanted to know how to set blocks on certain apps in order to keep scholars on track. Since I’ve used a class set of iPads since September, and since classroom management is one area in particular where I’m always trying to improve, I’m acutely aware of the issue. Short answer: managing middle schoolers on iPads is not really possible through iPad restrictions. It takes a combination of investment, management, technological tweaks, and effective instruction. Here are some of my lessons learned, but I would love to hear from others with digital tools in their classrooms how they address management.
This is a tough issue in part because I don’t love thinking about “how you can stop kids from doing things.” But iPads are designed for consumers to do lots of communicating. They were not designed with Lee Canter’s classroom management techniques in mind. And I teach 7th graders, who are wily and bent on pushing every barrier they can find.
Setting restrictions (Settings > General > Restrictions) is the best thing to do, but there is not as of yet any easy way to lock down the iPads to the point that students won’t play around with other unrestricted apps, or the Internet. But here are my concrete recommendations from a year of using iPads in a middle-school English class, where four sections of students share a set of 29 tablets:
- Set the restrictions to disable everything but Safari (see above). Make sure your restrictions passcode is something you’ll remember but your kids won’t guess immediately. Several of my students cracked my first code–I think because they saw me enter it. Use the same passcode on all the devices you have in your room.
- This means that you have disabled “Installing Apps” which is in my mind the most important thing you can do to calm curious tapping. Angry Birds and Temple Run are both free and oh-so-tempting.
- Associate all the iPads with a single Apple ID account that you control. You can use your personal account, but I have an entirely separate one. One issue is that you must associate a credit card with the account, so I use very strong password and never let the kids see me type it in.
- Below the list of “Allow:” apps on the Restrictions page, there’s also a list of “Allow Changes:” for Location and Accounts. Flip the setting that stops users from adding or changing accounts, otherwise there will be a strong temptation plug personal Yahoo emails.
- Bear in mind that the most important app you will probably want students using is Safari. But that is also the app curious students will use to watch YouTube videos, Google image search for shoes and candids of Lil Wayne and Nikki Minaj, and hop on Twitter. Facebook, thankfully, is blocked at the network level in our district.
Aside from that, it’s all about management, not iOS settings. “The iPads are tools for learning, not socializing,” was my mantra for the first weeks of school. Also all students, even ones who enter mid-year, must sign and have their parents sign an “Acceptable Use Policy” contract. My principal made this a requirement when she agreed to let me use the iPads, and I’m very glad she insisted on it (you can download it as a Word doc here). Be serious about setting expectations and consequences for misuse. My kids know that their iPad goes right back in the locking cabinet if I see even the corner of a Twitter screen. (“That was there when I logged on, I swear!” they say).
Another thing that I’ve found very effective for keeping students on task but with iPads open is simply turning my presentation for the day into a .pdf document and having them open it and scroll along during my minilesson. Here’s the presentation from a recent class to give you an idea of what that looks like.
They see this static version on their iPads, and I have a version in Word on my projector that I add notes and commentary to while teaching.
Again, these are recommendations that worked for me; they’re not research-tested and I would hardly claim to have perfected technological classroom management. Drop your suggestions in the comments!