Students at Hillview Elementary School use iPads in math class.
Students at Hillview Elementary School use iPads in math class.

As schools across the country consider which devices to invest in, they must first consider their big-picture vision for how they’ll be using these devices — and to what end. They must consider the needs of teachers and students, and come up with a shared understanding of their goals.

When it comes to choosing tablets, educators have a lot of anecdotal information to weigh, and many are making these decisions with their eyes wide open. But no one example of school tablet use can be a set model for every scenario. Each principal, each school, and each community has their own set of needs and criteria, so what might work in one school may not work in another.

Still, educators and administrators are learning from their experiences, and are continuing to refine their vision, as they set expectations for what they want to achieve — ideally beyond higher test scores. In our continuing coverage of tablets in schools, we’re seeking to document the questions and complexities that come up as teachers, administrators, and students find what works and what doesn’t.

To that end, we visited Hillview Middle School, located in an affluent Bay Area suburb in Silicon Valley, which is now in its third year of piloting iPads to each student, grade by grade. Principal Erik Burmeister has led the effort, consulting closely with EdTech Teacher, which puts on the annual iPad Summit, to help define those amorphous, complex goals.

But even with this fairly sophisticated level of knowledge and expertise going into the iPad pilot, Burmeister has no illusions that, at this point, the iPad program is doing more than just “enhancing” classroom learning. That is, it’s helping with homework management, organization, and other logistics, but the introduction of the device hasn’t yet become transformative, which is his ultimate goal.

So what does “transformative” mean to Burmeister?

“I no longer have to be the bottleneck of information for my students. I actually can be the person in charge of creating incredibly deep and broad learning experiences for kids and giving them the tools to find that factual information themselves,” Burmeister said. “My job is to ask powerful questions. My job is to create learning experience that gets kids engaged in a way that me just pouring information into them so they can memorize it and regurgitate it back to me is long gone. My job now is to get kids excited and give them the tools to be able to access the knowledge to be able create, to be able to analyze, to be able to compare and contrast, to be able to synthesize and to be able to design new things out of the learning that they’re able to access via a touch of a button on the iPad.”

That’s a tall order. Letting students take ownership of their learning may be at the heart of what Hillview hopes to eventually achieve, but getting to that level of transformational learning takes letting go of control on the part of teachers and administrators. And that’s where it can be tricky, even for a school like Hillview that’s committed to the idea of the iPad as a “positive disruptor” — a force that will require them to think about change.


Eighth-grade math teacher Michael Doroquez was an early tester of the iPad and has been using the device for the past three years. Doroquez uploads the day’s notes onto the education social networking site Edmodo, where all the students can access them on their iPads. He’ll explain or review a skill by projecting the worksheet onto the whiteboard and then break students into groups to practice. They work out problems by drawing on their iPads with their fingers. Later, they can turn their work into Doroquez through an app called Notability. “I kind of can’t live without it because I use so many things on the iPad,” Doroquez said.

“If you don’t get it, you can send an email to your teachers if they’re too busy or out of school, and they can help you out via email,” said eighth grade student Omar Pina Jr. “We can send our work to ShowMe and he can see what’s correct,” added Pina Jr.’s math partner Jhavante Hill. “Then we can click on it and see what he says on it. It’s really quicker.”

To that end, the iPad is a great utility tool. But for the most part, students aren’t doing anything on the iPad that they can’t do with pen and paper, although admittedly it’s much faster and more efficient to use the iPad. Instead of working on a paper worksheet, they’re filling out a digital one and emailing it to their teacher. The real gains are in organization and efficiency — an easily searchable archive of notes and past work or the ability to quickly email teachers with questions.

Math teacher Michael Doroquez works with students.
Math teacher Michael Doroquez works with students.


Seventh-grade teacher Michael Kalen is still experimenting what will work best in his English class because his students just got their iPads. To start with, he wants them to see the device as a powerful learning tool, not a toy. “I need them to see that this iPad is a powerful learning resource for them to get where they need to go,” Kalen said.

Before the school went one-to-one with iPads, Kalen sometimes had access to a shared laptop cart, but he couldn’t depend on it being available for every lesson. He’s excited to come into class, have kids open a home screen on the iPad and be ready to go, no intermediate steps or time lost. He expects to use apps like Socrative, a real-time polling app, and is already thinking about ways to get students practicing various parts of the writing process, like brainstorming, through different apps.

“Efficiency and effectiveness are what it’s all about with the iPads,” Kalen said. “For kids who struggle with disorganization the iPad is going to be a pretty effective organizational tool.”


In a small French class with only five or six students, the teacher helped her students familiarize themselves with their new iPads by screen casting a vocabulary exercise on the board. As students responded to the prompt, their answers popped up on the screen. The teacher could instantly see who understood her question – asked in French – and who was confused. Students also got immediate feedback on their answers and the class could discuss common mistakes.

Later, the teacher asked students to draw iPad sketches of the scene she described in French. Students were able to share their drawing with one another through the screencast, an especially useful too if the class had been bigger.


For the most part, the teachers interviewed at Hillview are excited about the iPad program, but many are still figuring out what works.

“I need to be more efficient with what I’ve got and I need to be more effective because the stakes have never been higher,” said English teacher Michael Kalen. Even without iPads, Kalen is one of those charismatic teachers that brings so much enthusiasm and humor to his subject that it’s hard to imagine any device would make him better at his job. But with Common Core State Standards on the near horizon, Kalen is worried about his ability to use class time efficiently. While the new standards cover less terrain, they expect a more comprehensive knowledge, Kalen said. He expects the iPad to put him on the same page as his students quickly each day, with no wasted time, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be sacrificing any of the teacher tricks he’s already learned.

“It’s still about the relationship,” Kalen said. “It’s still about building that creative confidence; it’s still about getting kids to push themselves. And that’s what I’m hoping this iPad will let us do.” Kalen is most excited that students might feel inspired by the technology to demonstrate their knowledge in different ways. “What I’m really enjoying about it now is that the products that kids create might all look very different, but the thinking and the synthesis of the ideas are all getting them to the same place,” he said.

Math teacher Michael Doroquez is also trying new things. This year when he gave a geometry review he turned it into a scavenger hunt with QR codes pasted around the school. “The kids loved it because not only were they able to leave the classroom, but they were able to work with each other outside the class setting, and used the iPad, and walk around the school and do problems,” Doroquez said.

Still, the iPad has some limitations. “I really want the iPad to be a tool for creating,” Doroquez said. “Right now it’s just a receptacle to take notes.” He expressed frustration at the limited apps available to him and at their cost. He wants to be more creative, but he’s having a tough time getting there with the iPad.

He complained that it is often hard to get outside data onto the iPad, like music for a video, for example. Big tech companies like Apple, Google, and Adobe all make products that work in separate ecosystems and aren’t compatible with one another, making it hard for Doroquez to find the right resources to expand how he teaches.

English teacher xx explains how the class will be using iPads.
English teacher Michael Kalen explains how the class will be using iPads.


“I think right now we’re really focused on the enhancement piece, but we’re excited to talk about the transformation piece,” said principal Burmeister. The efficiencies afforded by putting notes online or submitting work digitally are good steps forward, said Burmeister. He’s aware that most of his teachers are still exploring what can be done with the iPad and that some are further along than others in moving towards the kind of learning he’d like to see. But he’s willing to be patient.

“Everybody knows where we’re trying to get, but how each individual gets there and the speed at which they get there is different for every teacher,” Burmeister said. One simple way that iPads are moving beyond enhancing and towards transforming learning at Hillview happens when students take notes on their English and social studies texts. With paper textbooks, kids aren’t allowed to annotate what they’re reading because then the book can’t be used the following year for another student.

“It’s being able to engage with the material in a really kinesthetic way,” Burmeister said. “The material is so sacred that it’s not sacred, you can really dirty it up.” Students appreciate this new ability too. “It makes it a lot easier to study for quizzes because we can more easily find what we were going to say when we read something,” said eighth grader Jenna Filbin.


The iPad program is a bit of a gamble, given its relative expense compared to other devices. The administration waited until the school moved to a brand new building that had been upgraded with fast wireless and broadband infrastructure, a crucial part of a successful implementation. Even so, students complain the internet doesn’t always work. “It’s fast if there’s one person using it,” said eighth-grader Luke Stimbling. “We have 800 students and if a large portion is doing a project then it takes forever to download a document to view.”

Keeping that network running costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but in addition, each iPad costs about $600, including the apps Hillview has chosen and keyboards.

Burmeister is quick to point out that for that cost Hillview is already set up to have every student take Common Core assessments at the same time and that the costs of paper textbooks offset some of the initial technology investment. Hillview was able to go one-to-one because 10 percent of its operating budget comes from a parent-funded foundation, a luxury not all schools can boast.

“Over time, what you’re going to see is that not only are we enhancing these kids’ education, but we’re actually transforming it,” Burmeister said. “And it’s actually going to look different than it looks now.” Moving to Common Core offers the opportunity to dramatic rethink teaching and learning. There’s no better time to shake up how teachers are thinking about their craft, Burmeister said.

“We want learning to be technology infused and digital learning to be just who we are, what we’re about and what our students can do,” Burmeister said. As the rest of the nation looks towards these kinds of investments, Hillview hopes to be positioned as a shining example of how to successfully pilot and implement a one-to-one program.

What Will It Take for iPads to Upend Teaching and Learning? 12 March,2014Katrina Schwartz

  • Maria Cipollone

    Common core and technology don’t mix, really. You can’t think about traditional learning and technology in the same way. And iPads can’t just replace books. The shift has to happen in the way schools are funded, and the constraints on them. At the end of the day, an iPad won’t teach my student Algebra. I will. And if my job depends on whether or not the student scores well on a test in Algebra, you’d better believe I’ll trust myself over the iPad.

    • EmilyRosen77

      First, all education and technology can mix just as it has in the past. Second, tablets can indeed replace books and is doing so in many schools and colleges already. Have you heard of ebooks? The point of tech in classrooms is not that it replaces you (as parent/teacher) but supplements lessons via flip teaching and easier, more fluid/real time collaboration between students and teachers alike.

      • Maria Cipollone

        Hi Emily, thanks for your reply, but you seem to be reiterating my points, not disagreeing with me. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough. Sorry! I was trying to say that the common core pushes technology to the edge of teaching. Teaching with tech means a while different style of classroom (i.e., take a look at constructionist principals) True tech means integration as you are saying. Obviously, I’ve heard of eBooks, I was saying that the experience is not the same. In fact, studies show in early childhood cognition is disrupted by eBooks and that most digital tools in classrooms are no more than distractions. I agree that it’s not about replacement, but most tech in classrooms is about babysitting because most teachers are extremely overworked, and they appreciate the break. Also, funding streams are not consistent; today’s iPads will get replaced by tomorrow’s whatever, and there’s a graveyard of old tech in the classroom rare than a real and growing understanding of technology.

        • EmilyRosen77

          Hi Maria, OK sorry I misunderstood one of your points. However, though my specialty is not early childhood cognition, I have seen cases where technology has been successfully integrated into both elementary and secondary classrooms without being simply a distraction. It could be due to the teachers or how the administrators implemented the usage plans…not sure, but this is definitely a great area for ed researchers.

        • Keri Lamle

          I would like to know what studies you are referencing for technology, specifically e-books in early childhood education, affecting/disrupting cognition. I would also point out technology is a tool, if that tool is not being used in an effective/appropriate manner then this “problem” is better characterized as of a lack of professional development than the fault of the device.

          • Maria Cipollone

            Hi Keri, Yes! But, I disagree that teachers need more PD. They need less restrictions and more freedom to experiment. A lot of teachers don’t foray into new tech because they’re afraid to deviate from teaching the basics because of test score mandates/and standardized test design. Teachers need freedom and space to choice the tech of their choice. They often (I’ve found in my research) use tech as a babysitter because they have too many students, can’t serve all needs, and are OVER WORKED. Here’s some of that research, but this isn’t deep academic work (it exists if you have access to a univ/pub libraries eJournals)

          • Keri Lamle

            I would suggest you read the article “Using Electronic Books in the Classroom to Enhance Emergent Literacy Skills in Young Children” by Amelia K. Moody, Ph. D.

            Excerpt from Abstract:
            “Findings suggest that the use of high quality interactive e-storybooks may support emergent literacy development through the use of scaffolding, thus supporting vocabulary development, engagement, and comprehension of the story.”

            Dr. Moody goes on to say:
            “Evidence suggests that lower quality e-storybooks may offer distracting digital features including animations and sounds unrelated to the story.”

            The article references other research findings and continues by outlining the “Potential Benefits of E-storybooks in the Classroom” The specific perspectives are listed as:
            – improvement in reading engagement
            – as a tool to facilitate scaffolding for emergent literacy development.

            For me, I found the research related to the increased benefits of e-books when they are combined with adult mediation (aka a teacher) to be especially important.

            I would encourage you to review the “Summary of Implications for Educators.”

            Dr. Moody states a need for educators to be aware of what to look for in a high quality e-book. I would even hazard to say, this need for awareness could be perceived as a need for some professional development.

            I do agree with you that teachers need to have the freedom to explore what technology work best for them; but, I would stress the need for pd which focuses on what technologies have proven to be effective and what essential conditions are needed for a technology to be considered as having educational value. Your comment of teachers using tech as a babysitter is direct evidence of an increasing need for educators to understand technology frameworks and be able to make informed decisions when integrate technology into their classrooms.

            As to your use or to your study of the use “Minecraft in your Math Class,” I will leave that discussion for another day. 🙂

          • digitalkinders1

            Maria: As a kindergarten teacher in an all iPad, paperless school, I must say that I disagree with your assumption that technology is somehow easier on teachers and used by most as “a babysitter”. My experience has been that teaching this way demands more of my time and effort, not less. When I’m not busy loading materials and setting up my online courses, I’m researching apps and compatible online materials, filming flipped lessons, and providing parents with education about the technology. And, in the classroom there are unique challenges as well. Getting 25 five year olds to navigate successfully to an assignment and remain on task is sometimes next to impossible. iTunesU is not a pre-reader friendly environment, but that’s what our school is requiring us to use. On a daily basis I deal with spotty internet, iPad settings that have been changed by both my random button-pushers and by parents that use their children’s iPads for their own purposes, kids that continually navigate away from assignments by accident and intentionally, apps and email that have crashed, course materials that students have deleted, full iPad memories due to students and parents installing excessive amounts of games and apps, parents that are intimidated by the technology, and a myriad of other technological issues. The other day in kindergarten we learned that if you type “xxxxx” in the search box in the Educreations app, even with the age restrictions settings on, you get pictures that no kindergarten student should be exposed to! So, now I’m dealing with a traumatized student and having to make a phone call home to explain how this happened. Huge learning curve for this teacher. Yet, despite all this, my students are learning. Most are reading at a first grade level or above, and it’s only the 3rd quarter of kindergarten. I’ve found applications for the technology and ways to use it so that my students have to justify and explain their answers, so I can target the Common Core Standards and encourage the use of higher order thinking skills. My students have picked up the technology so quickly, it’s almost frightening. There’s not a single one that doesn’t know how to submit their assignments thru Google Drive and to my email, and both students and parents know how to retrieve assignment feedback that I’ve sent. Through experience I’ve learned that all apps are not equal…Some apps are definitely better than others. Unfortunately, like the math teacher in the article, I am frustrated with the lack of quality, free and low-cost apps. But, I’m finding solutions….(Oh yeah, there’s even more time and effort involved here, too)…I’m learning to create my own apps. Yep, working harder and longer hours, straining to learn more and serve my students better. This is definitely not babysitting.

    • Keri Lamle

      Not so sure about your conclusion “an iPad won’t teach my student Algebra”

      What an iPad cannot do, is blend the learning in the app with the passion for learning a teacher can provide. Creating this mix, is something only a truly skilled teacher can do.

  • Holli

    Technology is here to stay. We can embrace it and figure out ways to enhance learning or we can wait until it is forced on us but it will come. What a wonderful opportunity to have one to one iPads in a classroom. I would be scrambling as a teacher to learn the technology…but I would learn it! Technology is a big part of nursing education and as educators we must embrace it for the benefit of the students.

  • autism plusmath

    “I really want the iPad to be a tool for creating,” Doroquez said. “Right now it’s just a receptacle to take notes.” He expressed frustration at the limited apps available to him and at their cost. He wants to be more creative, but he’s having a tough time getting there with the iPad. (from the article)

    I write reviews and adaptations of learning technology for children with autism, and one of the problems I’ve noticed with 1:1 tablet implementations is the hoops that teachers must go through to obtain educational apps that increase student engagement and learning retention. There are some wonderful educational apps for Algebra, for example, (DragonBox comes to mind as a great option) and online educational games that work well on an iPad (Algebra VS the Cockroaches is a good choice); however, it is not uncommon for teachers to have to obtain approval from IT and/or Purchasing for each ninety-nine cent app purchase, or for unreliable internet connections to be the norm. It’s like buying a BMW to drive on dirt-roads and having to obtain approval for each tank of gas.

    Glenn Laniewski
    Latest post:
    Math teachers, start baking your Pi Day pies early

    • Michael Horton

      The school where I am an administrator, The Western Center Academy in Southern California, uses iPads, laptops, and chromebooks in the ways described in this article. It really is rare to see a traditional “lecture” anymore. It’s more collaborative, project based learning. And rest assured that our test scores are still great. We don’t do ebooks much because it’s simply not a great use of technology. We use them instead for creating videos, collaborating on projects, using apps, taking virtual field trips, creating animations, programming robots, journaling, and researching.

  • David V. Loertscher

    There are a few details missing that need to be addressed. First, no
    mention of Google Apps for Education…collaborative tools that are
    free, but more importantly allow for cooperative group work and
    collaborative intelligence. Second, no mention of instructional designs
    that concentrate on higher level thinking rather than kids just doing a
    group of assignments. Lastly, I am wondering about the existence of a
    librarian who can co-teach with teachers pushing in learning how to
    learn skills just at the time when increased content mastery is the
    goal. Just wondering.

    • EmilyRosen77

      Good points – the google apps are worth a mention. As for your point on librarians and co-teaching…some schools have hired digital learning and media specialists who work with teachers/admins and/or tech classes on the use of technology in the classroom (and presumably at home). Personally I think this is a good approach – and cost effect if that person has the dual role of teacher and de facto head of education technology for the school.

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  • Yep211

    Being involved with several rollouts of tablets, it is amazing how so many articles focus on ipads instead of more capable netbooks which run standard software, mature connectivity solutions, standard peripherals (ex. USB ports), and all the webapps at 50% less. Keyboards are additional costs for tablets and extra “pieces” for kids to track. This tells me truly thoughtful writing is deemphasized– even for the English teachers evidently. School communication and writing must be reduced to tweets?

    • umbrarchist

      By standard I presume you mean WINDOWS. At this moment I am typing on a Lenovo netbook running Windows 7 Professional from a high school in the midwest.

      The hardware is OK but Windows sucks. These things boot too slow, they shutdown too slow, they force upgrades that can take hours when Microsoft decides.

      Our educational systems should standardize on a FROZEN version of Linux even if they must create their own. All of this upgrading of operating systems is mostly trivial improvements with useless variations. It wastes lots of time and money.

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  • Elizabeth Kaski Venegas

    The change in schools will come more from the concept behind the iPad than from these actual devices themselves. What made Apple so successful was Steve Jobs’ focus on the user experience, rather than on the developer’s interests. When schools begin focusing on the students’ experience, on offering choices, on designing a learning environment that is enticing, then we will we see the true impact of the iPad. I’ve written more about this user experience in schools on my blog post.

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  • umbrarchist

    Just selecting the best 5% of works from Project Gutenberg should do it. That would be more than 2,000 books. That is all they had at the start of 2000.

    Omnilingual (1957) by H. Beam Piper

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  • Arbiter, mact frei

    A totally shameful and naive article that serves to illustrate the lack of properly considered and researched thinking. Our education systems have become places of conformity and compliance, rather than rigour and understanding. The growth of the commodification and monetisation of schooling means that true thought & knowledge is increasingly only available outside such systems. ‘Teachers’ become technicians ; ‘students’, consumers. Shockingly sad that this sort of thing is being promoted amongst people who must know better?

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Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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