High Rock iPads: An Interview with Jessica Downey

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CNS recently had the pleasure of meeting with Jessica Downey, Principal of the High Rock School, to discuss the implementation of Needham's 1:1 Personalized Learning Initiative (iPads) at the 6th grade level. 


We welcome you to read below for excerpts from our conversation with Jessica, as she provides valuable feedback on the program's initial year. Additional information about iPads at High Rock can be found on the High Rock Family Tech website.


CNS sincerely thanks Principal Downey for taking the time to meet with us and learn more about this new initiative at High Rock!

6/11/15: In This Issue
Interview with Jessica Downey
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Interview with Jessica Downey

CNS asked High Rick Principal Jessica Downey the following questions about the District's 1:1 Personalized Learning Initiative that was introduced this year at the High Rock School. 

Q1How have the teachers been using the iPads this year? 


We had three initial expectations for the teachers' use of the iPads this year. They were: 


(1) to support student organization and study habits,

(2) to empower students to engage in their learning and 

(3) to develop an understanding around digital citizenship. 


The teachers have far exceeded our initial expectations in many ways. Students are better organized and regularly use the iPads for podcasts, electronic portfolios, research, presentations, collaboration on group projects, and multi-media presentations. 


The teachers themselves are using the iPads for instant formative assessment and intervention instruction (activities during lessons designed to provide real time feedback to teachers allowing them modify teaching and learning activities). For example, one teacher gave his class a pop quiz on the iPad that allowed him to assess (in real time) the classroom knowledge of a particular topic and whether further instruction was necessary. He also could instantly determine whether any particular student lagged behind, allowing him to provide extra assistance to that student.  


Another teacher has created a blog used both in and outside of the classroom to post assignments and supplement his social studies curriculum. In another instance, the librarian has the students use DestinyQuest for the iPad which allows them to view the High Rock library virtually, create a wish list and reserve books online.   


Teachers also have been collaborating with one another, discovering and sharing innovative apps that allow for more creative and engaging methods of teaching.


Q2What apps are students primarily using? How?


The primary apps and web-based tools that students are using are: 

  • Google Docs for file sharing, collaboration, creation and storage.
  • myHomework for organization, planning and communication.
  • Notability for note taking and pulling in images, resources and documents.
  • Quizlet for study and review.
  • Smart Music for independent music practice and to monitor progress.
  • Socrative for assessing students' understanding of instruction in the classroom in real time.  

Q3How are teachers being trained in the use of this tool?


Our professional development with teachers began in January 2014 and has continued in the 2014-15 school year. Educators from Pollard who have been using iPads with students in their classes have led hands-on training.  


Erin McGuire, integration technologist, has provided training sessions both during school professional development time and after school. Teachers have engaged in these training programs, collaborate with each other, and seek out specific guidance and instruction. The collaboration among the staff is incredible. They are constantly sharing their ideas, discussing what has worked in the classroom, and encouraging each other to try new tools.  


Q4How are the students being educated about digital citizenship?


Digital citizenship instruction is woven throughout the school curriculum and is embedded in multiple lessons. There are specific lessons taught during Advisory, and the clusters have periods of time when they engage in all-cluster instruction. 


There are many essential questions and objectives that we discuss with students. What is digital citizenship? How is it different from real life citizenship? As we do this, students realize they are not that different as they list what it is to be a good citizen, and then attempt to delete what doesn't apply online. We discuss how digital citizenship is much more than just social media, but includes addictions, health, and copyright laws. Some topics we cover are:

  • How students leave a digital footprint. 
  • How many people online are "bad" citizens -- not adding to the community in a positive way -- and how this is the norm on many sites.
  • How negative participation in social media can affect the future of the students involved. 
  • What is "private" in person, might not be "private" on Instagram (for example), as it can be easily reposted or shared without consent.    

We also use videos from Common Sense Media, Brainpop and NetSmartzKidz to facilitate many of these conversations. 


In conjunction with our anti-bullying curriculum, our technology instruction also reviews cyberbullies. We address:

  • How to identify online bullying.
  • What to do (including blocking, screen capturing, telling an adult, printing, reporting to the site).
  • How to support someone being bullied.

In general, we encourage kids to realize the change starts with them. If they stay positive and act as good citizens, they will slowly change the norm. 


Q5What were some of the biggest challenges with this year's iPad implementation and how are you addressing them?


Our initial roll out of the devices with families had some challenges, particularly for those unfamiliar with Apple products. As a district, we have identified those problem areas and made adjustments for a more efficient and hands-on implementation process for the 2015-16 school year.  


Some of those adjustments include:

  • A new part-time IT professional dedicated to the 1:1 Initiative. 
  • On-line tutorials to help parents and students with the set-up and implementation.
  • Scheduled meetings where parents can bring in the iPad, ask questions and learn about the iPad. 

We also have a technology planning team comprised of administrators and teachers that constantly reflects on our progress and identifies next steps for device management, instructional application and professional development.


The engagement of students in this new tool has been wonderful. Often, students are presenting new ideas to each other and the staff on how to integrate the electronic device more into their learning. A parent reported a conversation with her daughter, "Mom, I'm not going to bring my binder to school anymore. I don't even take it out of my bag. I just do everything on my iPad!"


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