Punishing the iPad

In December, I had the opportunity to attend (and present) at the annual Minnesota education technology conference, TIES.  I went to one presentation by Farmington Middle School about their iPad initiative.  While I am at a 1:1 iPad school, there are still things to learn from other schools undertaking the same journey.

The two things I left that session with were:

1) Make the students accountable in the repair process: have them fill out an insurance report and describe what happened, even if no report is actually necessary. 

2) Don’t punish the iPads.

Like all schools, we are just past the 1/2 way point of the year, and in fact, are closing in on the 2/3 point in early March.  Our tech team (of which I am a part) did a survey of our teachers, and two very clear trends emerged:

1) There were a lot of benefits with the iPads

2) Without a doubt, teachers are tiring/have tired with the freedom of the iPads and students not being on task.

One of our district’s goals was to restrict the iPads as little as possible.  We do have some restrictions on websites (the same, in fact, as our public wireless network) and so far have only blocked one app, Snapchat.  Snapchat has no redeemable qualities for education.  But we have given students the freedom to put whatever apps they want on their devices, with the understanding that they can access those apps at appropriate times (before/after school, and even during “free” work times in their classes if their work is done).

The problem is that students are making poor choices, and accessing those other apps when they should be involved in the classroom.

This is nothing new: in the past, they just “zoned out” or wrote notes; the problem is that they now have a device in their hands with which they can actually do something with instead of just gazing into space.

When they are caught, a number of teachers are confiscating or locking down iPads with restrictions.  What this means is that students either do not have their iPads for other (or any!) classes, or they cannot download other apps that other teachers need them to use.  It’s a mess, and the ironic thing is that we’re punishing iPads–and there is almost no penalty for the student.  There is no notification that students have lost their iPad, so there is no way to prepare for that missing in your class (paper handouts, for example).  And it actually punishes other teachers that now have to find paper solutions for kids who should be having an iPad in your class.

I admit it; I had confiscated some iPads earlier in the year, but turned them into the office so the administration could meet with the student, have a discussion, and get the iPad back.  It was never my intent to confiscate an iPad long-term–and we currently have many students with no iPad without any expected return date.  I’m not kidding–months.  And all of the action is by grade level team, and the administration is not even involved.

Right now, I am teaching a series on writing music and composition using NotateMe Now, a free version of the handwriting recognition program for music.  Students without an iPad simply cannot participate in the same way as other students in the class can participate.  Even if they write music on paper, they are not getting the instant feedback on whether their manuscript can be deciphered. 

I’ve seen a lot of trite comments about iPads and engagement that state, “Make your lessons engaging and kids won’t improperly use their iPads in your class.”  And I have said, “How can we expect our students to use devices properly if we as teachers cannot?”  I believe both of these statements, but there is a missing factor in both.

First, engagement can only go so far.  I don’t care if you are the best, most engaging teacher–at some point, some game on an iPad will be more interesting than you; or InstagramFacebook/Vine will be.  Admit it.  Here’s the deal: students have to learn to do what is right, even if they aren’t in a 100% engaging class.  And we should never entertain the idea that it is okay for them to not be engaged even if they don’t have an engaging teacher.  Their futures are going to be full of non-engaging teachers, particularly at the collegiate level where their teachers may never have been trained as “educators.”

Second, I think it is important to acknowledge that we face the same temptations.  One teacher defended herself to me, stating, “Well, I have a better ability to multi-task.”  I don’t agree.  We choose to be distracted in meetings.  But this doesn’t mean that it is right for us, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is right for students.  My approach is to say, “Look, I get it.  You’re not connected.  For that reason, I have no desire to punish you or your iPad, but you still have to do what is right.” I understand why you want to play Madden 25.  It’s still not right to do so.

My latest approach is to deal with the student and the behavior, rather than to punish the iPad.  I will ask honest questions to the student such as, “Are you aware that you are off-task and not doing what you are supposed to be doing?”  “Why is this game more important to you right now?”  “Are you planning on joining us?”  In severe cases, I will take an iPad for a few moments and delete every game and social media app on their device.  Yes, they can reinstall them, and most of their data stays intact in iCloud.  But they still have to reinstall everything.  It makes a point.  But then they get their iPad back–immediately.

Sometimes you won’t get a good answer.  Just today, I asked a student, “Why are you choosing not to join us?”  The reply was, “My mom tells me that choir doesn’t really count, so it doesn’t matter if I fail.”  There’s little I can do there–it will do me little good to challenge that student further in class*, or to challenge the parent.  The damage to choir has already been done at home and I–nor any other teacher–will be able to repair that damage.  And that’s the world where I live in, where music is a requirement at middle school, and anyone that doesn’t play an instrument is routed to choir.  Of my 216 students, probably only 60% want to be there (that’s up from 30% in the beginning of the year–so I’m celebrating the success).

My vow: I refuse to punish the iPad or to punish the device.  Instead, I will deal with the behavior behind the misuse.


*Note: I did respond to the student with a statement to the effect of, “Here’s the deal, there are other classes that you won’t like or you won’t think are important, but the fact is that there are tasks in your life that are the same way.  Working through things we don’t like is how we learn to handle those activities in the future.  This is a chance to do the right thing and to be the person you want to be, rather than to lose an opportunity to build that character.  Tuning out and refusing to do any work doesn’t help you in any way, either.  Choose the right path.” 

The student’s response?  “Meh.”


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