My school district has decided to provide an iPad to every student in the district, from kindergarten to grade 3, starting next September -- although a handful of classrooms are piloting this currently. The iPads will stay at school (i.e. they won't be sent home with the students).

I predict that some parents will want to opt out. Let's take that as a given, i.e. a premise for my question.

Q1. How can a teacher accommodate the student(s) who have opted out? This isn't a rhetorical question, and I realize it may be difficult. I really am looking for creative ideas here.

Q2. If a family wishes to opt out in a more drastic way, such that their child is not exposed to the iPads at all, how can a school accommodate this? (Same clarification as for Q1.)


Context: teachers here are just starting to figure out how to incorporate iPads into their teaching at this time.

I expect teachers will earn higher principal evaluation scores for using the iPads in their teaching (as opposed to stuffing them in a closet). Note, teacher tenure decisions are now tied to principal evaluation score, and tenure can be revoked. Thus, pressure will be high for teachers to incorporate iPads to at least some extent into the school day.

Edit 5/18/15

Responding to @BenCrowell:

Why would parents opt out? I can imagine why they would opt out of having them brought home (don't want responsibility for an expensive device), but you're not talking about having them brought home. I can imagine why they would prefer that the whole program not exist (the program sounds like a stupid idea to me, too). But how could they imagine that their kid will benefit from being the only one in the room who doesn't have the shiny toy, who doesn't get to follow the same lesson?

A growing number of parents in our district are voicing objections to the plan; whether it's one lone student in a class who's opting out, or a more substantial number of students, I'd still like to get an idea how a teacher could differentiate instruction for the padders and the non-padders.

One parent in my district wrote the following:

"Interaction with technology, especially with touchscreen devices, can reduce students' attention spans and their desire to sink into other more difficult, but ultimately richer experiences, such as reading for pleasure. We have noticed this effect especially strongly with our boys and other boys in general. We would like to see our elementary schools continue to provide an environment of positive values, respect for others, and intellectual curiosity, and interest in activities that will provide a lifetime of enrichment. We have found that touch screen devices are so compelling for children this age that it can take away interest from activities that do not have such quick feedback, but that provide depth in the long run. We believe that computer literacy is valuable for students, especially for students that do not have computers in their home, but we believe that iPads and other touchscreen devices are not the right tools for teaching computer literacy."

I've found a number of districts that have already implemented a 1:1 program, and they all have opt-out forms posted on their websites.

I would ask contributors not to argue with the premise in this question, "I predict that some parents will want to opt out. Let's take that as a given, i.e. a premise for my question."

In any case, this is off-topic for the site.

I hope some SE participants will put their thinking hats on and help me try to figure out how the differentiation could be done.

This is going to be an issue in many, many schools, sooner than you might think. For example, the state of New York is offering schools a sizeable subsidy for supplying personal devices for students, through the Smart Schools Bond Act. See http://programs.governor.ny.gov/smart-schools-ny

We also don't know what the ipads are used for, so we can't answer.

Frankly, I think the folks who participate on this site would probably be able to think up better ways to use them than your typical elementary teachers, whose forte is very rarely mathematics.

I'm not ready to give up yet on the idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate both padders and non-padders in one classroom. I personally haven't been able to imagine any ways to do it, though, which is why I posed the question and bounty here.

And let's not forget Q2 -- I'm also trying to figure out how a teacher or a school can accommodate an individual family that's saying, I don't give permission; please keep the devices well away from my child.

Edit 5/24/15

Thanks to those who have participated so far. Responding to some of the comments:

The parents were upset about their kids touching a computer screen, not seeing the computer screen.

That is indeed the scenario in Q1, but in Q2, a family is attempting to opt out in a more blanket way.

The dreaded screen of the iPad

Ouch! A bit judgmental, no?

What do you do if a parent objects to the Pearson textbook you use, without having read it?

Speaking for myself, as a parent of a student in the state of New York, I have objected to some Pearson quasi-textbooks (EngageNY "modules"), but after having read them.

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    $\begingroup$ Is this a specific math question or general education? $\endgroup$
    – Chris C
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I think throwing technology at education is a poor idea. How does it help K-3? $\endgroup$
    – Chris C
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris, please assume that some parents will feel the way you do, and want to opt their children out of the use of iPads in school. Now, I need some creative ideas for how the classroom teacher can cope, if she has 19 iPad users in her classroom and a student who has opted out. Or several such students. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2015 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ What will they use the Ipads for? In high school I've seen textbooks on them, homework passed out through them, homework done on them, (writing on worksheets) and homework returned through them. What's appropriate for their level? $\endgroup$
    – nickalh
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @aparent001 to some extent it's going to depend on the activity involved. I don't have any direct experience but I'll give it a think. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 19:56

4 Answers 4


Short answer: With a lot of work.

Long answer: There may be possibilities where students working on iPads can work next to students not working on iPads, but my experiences volunteering in elementary school suggest that it creates a division that would be more distracting than helpful. I recommend segregation so that the people not working on the iPad are in a different room. Ideally, an "iPad lab" is set up so that all iPad work is done in the lab, and equivalent work done in the regular classroom. If you have to accommodate only a few students away from the iPad, suggest that they have special assignments that their parents encourage that they do, and make sure there are personnel to supervise their working on those assignments.

To really accommodate the parents who choose to opt out, you will have to offer an iPad free environment. The lab above is the closest I can come to what I think is a realistic accommodation, based on experiences of U.S. K-3 education.

Gerhard "How Smart Is Segregation Anyway?" Paseman, 2015.05.19

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with an iPad lab is that it undermines the purpose of 1:1. The purpose is to seamlessly allow the use of the tool wherever appropriate for whatever subject. It would be like going to another room to use an OHP, or a computer projector. Or how practical is a pencil and paper room or textbook reading room? If I understand you right, I agree that the core problem is allowing (encouraging?) the blanket opt-out and idea of segregation in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 17:59

If a learning activity can be effectively carried out without iPads, then the iPad is not being used appropriately. Good educational technology does not just change how something is done, it expands what is possible. If pen and paper is just as good, maybe pen and paper should be used.

As an analogy, if parents seriously object to the ready availability of pencils and paper in classrooms they should not expect an innovative alternative curriculum. The range of activities available to writers simply can't be easily replicated without pencil and paper. Their kids will simply miss out. But if all you are using pen and paper for is to write down times tables, maybe you should do more of it verbally, which is a more social activity, allows for faster feedback, and eases the movement to reflection and other high level activities. Even in a modern classroom there are still many activities which are best carried out by verbal discussion, though our education system has become obsessed with writing, and now with interactive technology.

In my experience, highly interactive technology is often best used in groups that can discuss what they should do, thus combining verbal, written, and interactive tasks into a single activity. This can turn basic tasks into a higher order/reflective tasks. In this case, the non-touchscreen kid can be a navigator or advisor but not the driver (the person physically controlling the device). No change of classroom task is needed. The parents were upset about their kids touching a computer screen, not seeing the computer screen.

For individual activities, if your students are using interactive simulations to understand multiplicative/proportional relationtionships, non-digital kids can play with manipulables or draw diagrams. If your students are using adaptive quizzes with instant feedback, your other students can have generic drill sheets which they can they swap and peer mark, or maybe flash cards. If your students are proving geometric figures with Dragon Box Elements, the other kids can... doodle in their books. It is just a qualitatively different interactive learning experience from pen and paper. The parents should be told what their kid is missing out on.

If your students work on a cooperative project facilitated by the iPads, the non-digital kids can bring their own technology (from a brand their parents approve of) and try to join in, but should not expect the teacher to provide tech support. Or they can write out a report by hand and a team-mate can take a photo and paste it in.

Visuals can be watched on a TV connected to an iPad via AppleTV, so the children don't have to touch the dreaded screen of the iPad (as apparently touching the screen of an Apple device destroys the ability of a child to concentrate). The AppleTV can then be controlled with a traditional remote control. Or the iPad can be controlled by a friend.

I hope some of my ideas are usefuI, but though I accept the premise of the question that you can always find some parent to object to anything a school does (especially when it comes to the brand of technology that a school uses), I disagree with the unstated assumption that it is the teacher's job to provide alternative programmes for their kids.

As a parent who has previously asked for my kids to opt out of an activities, I never assumed that a teacher should provide alternative activities. I simply assumed my kids would be missing out and that they should take an alternate activity, or at least a good book.

Part of the problem is the school allowing parents to opt-out of a tool rather than an activity. It is pandering to ignorance on a par with pretending that doodling is the same as maths because they both use pen and paper. Dragon Box has little in common with YouTube surfing or Candy Crush. Parents have no right to a blanket objection to a brand or variation (touchscreen vs mouse) of safe and widely accepted education equipment, only to particular educational activities. Unless, of course, they have significant reason to believe the equipment is unsafe for their kids. Maybe they have been formally diagnosed as being ... dis-haptic?

It would also be very reasonable to expect teachers to limit screen time to healthy limits, and parents could easily have input on what these limits should be. However, offering parents a blanket opt-out rather than time limit suggestions seems more like a cop-out by the school rather than something intended to produce constructive school-home dialogue.

Let's be honest: in many cases the disagreement is probably not about educational activities at all but is a strategic argument driven by politics, ideology, or by semi-religious brand loyalty. What do you do if a parent objects to the Pearson textbook you use, without having read it? Or your 'liberal' History textbook? Or textbooks in general? They can opt-out of the class, but it is not the teachers' responsibility to change their program.

Where the disagreement is genuinely about child health, then a richer dialogue about appropriate use would be much better for all involved, and I suspect all parties would usually find themselves in agreement after a more detailed explanation of how the equipment will be used has taken place.

  • $\begingroup$ "A richer dialogue about appropriate use would be much better for all involved." Mmm, makes my mouth water. Unfortunately, there is no transparency or dialogue in my district. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2015 at 4:59

(This is more of a starting point than a complete answer. Having written it, it's also mostly aimed at the wrong age group.)

For some tasks you might want to use the ipads for, you can replace them with a different object: a single-person whiteboard for drawing/displaying their answer, a calculator, compass and ruler for construction, tracing paper for doing translations (maybe plus a torch to do enlargement??). If you're feeling really bold, get them to do logic circuits using some construction toy - the ipad kids will want to join in then, I'd think. If you can find the time, you could perhaps use this to start a discussion on the role of technology in maths (and in society as a whole). Of course, some of this would be more of a pedagogy-redesign, rather than a coping strategy.

Some tasks, which are really suited to use of computers, like simulations, or exploring the effect of changing parameters, will be much harder for the students to do by hand, if at all possible. Again, this might contribute to the discussion on what part computers should play in maths.

Given the choice, I would start setting tasks where sometimes the use of a computer is better, and sometimes not (eg proof type questions), and use it to teach them to choose the right tool, and to understand the difference between experimental evidence and mathematical proof.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for opening things up, and for basing your answer on the premise that iPads will be used by the bulk of the students, but that some students will have "opted out." - - - It's very important that we restrict ourselves to K-3, since grades 4-12 will be given Chromebooks. Could you do me a favor and edit your answer, to highlight the specific things that could be relevant for K-3? Also, there are some terms I don't understand in this context: tracing paper for translations, torch for enlargement. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2015 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ Nothing I said is specific to an iPad; it applies equally well to a Chromebook, or any other internet-accessing technology. $\endgroup$
    – Jessica B
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to study translation, one way to do so is to draw a shape, then trace it on to tracing paper, and move the tracing paper by the translation of interest. If you want to change the size of your shape, you could draw it on the tracing paper in thick black pen, hold the tracing paper up and shine light on it from a small light source, so the shadow is bigger than the original. I've never tried it, so it may not work, but it was an idea. $\endgroup$
    – Jessica B
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Let me try again. @Jessica, you said your answer was mostly aimed at the wrong age group. So could you pull out the parts of your answer that would be most relevant for K-3, please? $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2015 at 0:15

An excellent question, and @Richard is right when he says that if the iPad (or any technology) can be easily replaced it's not being used well. So I propose that the way to use iPads with some, but not all, students is to make them one tool among many.

I'll try and be specific here, but K-3 is not my area of expertise. Let's say you're doing an activity with perimeter and area. You could make one activity use the iPad to explore and interact with perimeter and area, like an object where the students can change the measurements of a figure with a slider. Students would learn manipulation skills and about the relationship between side lengths and both perimeter and area. You could have another activity where students measure existing figures to determine perimeter and area. These students would learn measurement skills and the relationship between perimeter and area. Then make groups with students from each area and they must create figures with specified perimeter and area. This should require the skills learned at each station and the cooperation of the students.

The design principle being that iPads are a tool, the best way to use them and not in the same lesson is to develop a range of tools that students can use. Skills learned on the iPad do not need to be exactly duplicated with other tools, but would ideally compliment the skills learned using the other tools.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice concept (comparing tools) and nice lesson plan. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2015 at 17:31

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