Sunday, March 31, 2013

A European experience with iPads -- from three letters

A father in Europe put me in touch with several teachers at his daughter's school.  The teachers wanted to introduce some independent learning by students using iPads and they asked for some of my experience.   I posted a series of iPad youtube videos that I found.  You can see that link here

This is what most teachers and parents expect when you say, "Technology in the Classroom."

My words are in italics.   The Teacher in Europe is in colored letters...
The aim of this blog post is to share with you the response that I got from the teachers.   Their experiences show some of the challenges of relying on technology to provide the


FIRST LETTER (written in September 2013)  in green.
I asked, "Do you have any videos showing your school and your best practices?"

I apologize for the late answer, I was very busy with my little children.
The topics you want to discuss are very interesting.
However, it is important to underline that the our school is very different and far from the American school in structure, contents and student’s approach.
Here, we give more importance to the concepts to teach than to the competences to achieve, and it would be quite hard to change this general attitude.  My opinion is that it’s important to both learn concepts and learn how to make use of them.
Anyways, we have gotten into the game and we have started the tablet project in classes, trying to follow the students closely while they get familiar with it.
If you agree, I think we can start from how new technologies can improve the interaction between teachers and students and how to promote the engagement and the active and conscious participation of the students at school.
I forwarded to my colleagues the whole material you attached to your last e-mail.
Our traditional teaching method in frontal lessons relies on the accurate introduction of the topic (e.g. the evolution of tragedy from Shakespeare to Manzoni), followed by individual study and oral and/or written tests to evaluate learning.  On the other hand, our tablet experimentation focuses on building knowledge side-by-side with the students.  For instance, during an one-hour lesson, we introduce the topic for 15 minutes, and then ask the students to elaborate it through consultation of handbooks (iPads) or the Internet, individually or in groups.  Our aim is to build "our own textbooks" with the students.

I have no videos to show you at the moment.
Please call us by Skype.  On Tuesday the English teacher will be also present, and helping with translations.  In case communicating orally won't be satisfying, we could use the email.  

In September 2012
We had a Skype call, I learned about their first use of tablets in the classroom and we agreed to continue to look for suggestions about "how to use iPads in the classroom."  Some of the teachers wanted a list of suggestions for "using technology in the classroom."  I then sent three questions ...

SECOND LETTER ( four days later)   in blue

thanks for your notes.
You ask us: 
A) Where is the "modern" Maria Montessori or Jean Piaget or John Dewey in your country?
b)  What schools do you admire?
c)  What have you seen in a classroom that you admire?

Good questions!
  1. Montessori's method is in the dumps. There are many reasons for that: public system don't have money to promote and to finance small classes, with a so special relationship between teachers and students. Moreover, there's an impossible conflict to resolve (actually) between traditional approach and alternative approaches. 
  2. I admire the school where students are the focus of teaching; where students finish their path with success and with a real excellent culture and qualification. For that, I think, it's necessary to create a good working environment and we've got to get students used to agreement, to a healthy contention.
  3. The best that I have seen  in my ideal classroom  is cooperation and a good greeting.
My school is a private school: so we've more possibilities than public schools. But we've got to respect rules imposed by Department of Schools: so we have specific programs to follow.
Taking on this new challenge means to conjugate what's better is in "old" school with what's better in new approach.
Our classes are composed by 15 (up to 35) students: it's impossible for us making school with one student at a time. We guide a full group, very heterogeneous about knowledge and competences.

For us the problem is to be very pragmatic: our students have to take and to pass an important exam at the end of lyceum. So they must be really prepared! 
Our programs are so vast! They can't choose what's necessary to study (there's not optional courses: all is core curriculum). 
As you observe, our scholastic system is limited.

See you soon!


I had pressed the teachers in the Skype call to tell me about how they have used technology to create time to meet one-on-one with each student.   How can you arrange the class (and perhaps use technology) to create time to sit with each student?   I sent the school some books that were translated into the local language, particularly a Dan Pink book called Drive.

In March 2013 I went to New Zealand and Australia where I connected with some teachers and students. ...  I suggested that the students in ANZ could contact the European teachers.
 (I wrote (A) to ask about their progress and (B) to connect their students with some students I met in Auckland.)   

Here in my school we're ok. Sorry for my long absence, but I had a lot of problems and responsibilities at School and my time is so... short.
Your ideas about School and didactics are really great and we enjoyed the material you sent us.
Our didactical experimentation with tablets has just  started to work: the start was very difficult.
Here are our main problems:
1) big (very very big!) difficulties in changing the didactical approach (many colleagues struggle and they go on with old scholastic approach). It's absolutely useless to work with tablets in this way! We only changed medium (tablet vs books), but almost nothing has changed.
2) It's very hard to supervise students' attention during lectures/lessons: we often see students playing games or hearing music (etc...).
3) Many parents are skeptical about new technologies in education: so they blame us teachers if kids don't achieve good scholastic goals.

TEACHER NETWORK:  I'm very interested in the network that you created:   the project of connecting teachers from different "lands" is useful.
I think it's fondamental to compare each others about School: maybe it's possible to make something of extraordinary!

STUDENTS TO STUDENTS:  No problems if students from Auckland contact us: it's a pleasure!

p.s. Why not create an "event", an international convention about "world" school and about good practices in school, where there's possibility of talking and debating between different teachers from all the world.


Discussion:   Richard E. Clark's work is helpful to remember that "media are mere vehicles" in delivering information.  Whether you get your vegetables delivered by a large truck or by some farmers pushing carts, the nutrition you get from the vegetables will be unchanged by the method of delivery.

If you (reader) want to contact these teachers and see if they are interested in more discussions, I can forward your questions to them.  

If you have materials for the Teachers Network or if you want to see the International Network of Educators, please go to the following address:

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