When Jennie Magiera introduced one-to-one iPads to her fourth- and fifth-grade students on the South Side of Chicago, she didn’t quite know how to best use them to serve her public-school students.

“I spent all my time trying to find the best apps and digitized worksheets, and it was frustrating because nothing in my classroom was changing,” says Magiera, now chief innovation officer at Chicago’s Des Plaines School District 62.

But after some trial and error, the tablets became much more than a digital teaching tool; they began to engage and excite her students at a level she’d never seen before.

“I finally realized the technology could solve problems that analog tools hadn't been able to,” she says.

“Don't focus on the technology; focus on the teaching.”

Personalized lessons

One problem Magiera had given up on was the fact that with 37 students and only 50 minutes to teach, she’d never be able to meet one-on-one with them all. But using the iPad, she could record individualized video lessons to help every student with the issues they struggled with.

“I‘d grade their work and see what they didn’t understand, then make a video explaining it that they could watch on their own device,” she explains. “All of a sudden, I could be in 37 places at once.”

Confidence boost

While her students’ state test scores jumped as a result of the videos, Magiera says even better was their increased engagement.

“Their self-confidence grew in an incredible way,” she says. “Kids who never came to school were showing up early and staying late. They wanted to come to school every day just to see what I had thought of just for them. Because I was working so hard to meet their needs, they worked harder to meet me, and that was really magical.”

While Magiera would have loved to extend the iPad learning outside of school, the risk of theft and lack of wireless access at home kept the iPads in the classroom. But the benefits she saw there were enough to inspire her to continue as a classroom technology innovator, and she encourages others to not be afraid to do the same.

“Don't focus on the technology; focus on the teaching,” she advises. “Innovation is about solving old problems in new ways, so remember that the technology is just a vehicle for education, not the actual destination.”