Educators often question how they can acquire iPods and iPads to use in their own classrooms, especially when so many districts are experiencing serious budget crunches. Many feel that that it just isn’t possible because their districts don’t have the money or don’t believe mobile technology is worth investing in. I know how you feel; I have been there. And here’s my advice: stop waiting for the district, and start taking your own steps to make the change in your classroom on your own.
When I first began using iPods and iPads in the classroom, it was long before the touch-screen era. I started with a second generation click-wheel iPod with a gray screen and rather limited functions (audio, contacts, and calendars). My initial reason for using the iPod was because I needed a portable audio player. It just so happened that the best solution was the iPod I was carrying around in my pocket. Unfortunately at the time, iPods were banned in my school district. So how did I go from using a single iPod in a district that didn’t allow the device to designing a 1:1 iPad district initiative? I’m a believer that if opportunity doesn’t knock, you should just start opening doors.
Here are five opportunities I took advantage of in order to start opening the doors to mobile learning in my classroom, and eventually in my district:
1. Use Your Own Device and Let Students Bring Their Own! The first iPod in my classroom was my personal iPod (that I bought off eBay). The second iPod in my classroom was a student’s personal iPod. By using my personal device, and allowing students’ to use theirs, I was able to gather enough data to demonstrate to my district that we needed to re-evaluate the ban on mobile devices and begin to look at these as learning tools. Today, the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model is becoming more and more popular with districts because it allows for student individualization and can alleviate some of districts’ financial obligations for having to purchase large quantities of mobile devices. While I understand that many districts still ban student-owned technology, it is a topic that educators need to start thinking about, as discussed in this EdReach article.
2. The DonorsChoose.org Website! DonorsChoose’s slogan is “Teachers ask. You choose. Students learn.” It is as simple as that. DonorsChoose.org is a non-profit organization that connects public school teachers with people who want to support learning in the classroom. Teachers request materials for their students. Donors choose to help fund a project. Once a teacher’s project is funded and purchased, students and the teacher send thank you notes to the donors. This was the first way that I was able to acquire iPods specifically for classroom use. You can view my first proposal on DonorsChoose to get an idea of the process. A good tip is to advertise your proposal so more people know about it!
3. Ask for Donations! Let’s face it, iPods and iPads have become incredibly popular consumer devices over the last few years. And with each new release of an iPod or iPad, thousands of individuals are upgrading. I know because I happen to be one of them. Each time I upgrade, I add my older device to my classroom collection. This led me to start asking for donations. Every year, at our first faculty meeting I ask my fellow educators and administrators to consider donating their old devices if they upgrade, and to help spread the word to anyone they know. I send out letters and emails to parents in the district, and also to my own family and friends. I put postings in the local libraries on the community bulletin boards. I ask for the district to include the request every now and then in the district’s weekly list serve. Even I’m surprised by the amount of devices that have been donated over the years. People have been more than happy to donate older devices when they know that they are learning tools for the classroom. Also, it can be a nice tax write off. Sometimes people give me their older broken iPods or iPhones. That’s fine with me because I just hand them off to a few tech-savvy students with access to YouTube and often they are able to fix them. And if the device can’t be easily fixed (or affordably fixed), you can give the device back to Apple and take advantage of their recycling program, which gives you a 10% discount on a new device… or possibly an Apple gift card if the device still has monetary value!
4. Write a Grant! While it may not be your first choice due to the time and effort involved, grants are a fabulous way to get funding for technology in your classroom. There are numerous grants available for educators, but they can often be hard to find. Each school year, Tech & Learning attempts to make the process easier for educators by providing a calendar of grant opportunities for technology. They even include links to the grants, due dates for the grants, and great grant writing tips! You can download it in calendar form on their website.
5. Budget for Devices! Plan ahead and start looking at working with your district to budget for devices in your classroom. Are there materials and equipment you can stop purchasing so that there is more money available for mobile devices? For example, since there are free apps available for calculators, notebooks, maps, and music/video players… can you stop purchasing these items? Often districts have money to spend, but they choose to spend it on items they have been purchasing for years. When educators start looking at these items as tools and not materials, they may realize that mobile devices offer many of the same tools with no additional cost to the device. You can read about how Wilmette School District 39 was able to purchase iPads by analyzing their budget and choosing to spend less on certain items.
While I know that not every opportunity listed above may be right for you and your classroom, I do think that it is important to know that there are indeed options out there to start the process. And while many of these options may take extra time and effort on your part, the pay off for your students can be quite significant. I am reminded of a commercial from the people at Becel, where a few individuals get ‘stuck’ on a broken escalator. Instead of choosing to walk up the escalator, they hang out and wait for someone to come and fix the escalator for them. While it is a humorous commercial, it is also a reminder to me that sometimes you don’t have to sit around waiting… you can just get up and do it yourself.