In my last two posts, I detailed the iPad initiatives at Burlington High School. I talked about what we learned after a year of a 1:1 iPad environment and dispelled some myths surrounding iPads in education. Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with two of my elementary teachers at Pine Glen Elementary and Francis Wyman Elementary schools. This year, four first grade classrooms will be piloting a 1:1 iPad environment. The iPads stay in the classroom and are only used during class time. Two of the teachers involved, Irene Farmer and Erin Guanci, sat down with me and answered a few questions about their expectations of the initiative, how they are using the device at the moment, and how they feel it will work in an elementary classroom.
Why is it a good idea to integrate iPads into the elementary classroom? Won't they distract from fundamental, formative skills?
Erin: iPads are a great way to complement other forms of instruction. In the name of universal design, you can't beat them! The children LOVE them. I find that the children spend less time dealing with logistical issues ("my pencil broke," "the blocks fell on the floor," "I can't find my book") and more time hands-on learning. They are able to experience far more than what I could offer them in the classroom (a look into outer space, endless literature, instant feedback, etc.)
Irene: Used correctly, iPads can only enhance the basic, formative skills taught in an elementary classroom. Anything can be a distraction to a six-year-old. The secret is making the so-called distraction work in the favor of learning. Using a highly engaging tool such as the iPad to reinforce the basic, formative skills already taught through direct instruction is a teacher's best friend. The key to learning is engagement. iPads allow you to tap into that engagement in a profound way. Using proper applications increases the depth of the learning through reinforcement.
How are you integrating the device with your curriculum?
Erin: I'm TRYING to incorporate it into each subject area . . .
Literacy -- Students record themselves reading, play phonics and phonemic awareness games, practice high frequency word spelling, write in a digital journal and practice the word memory through fun apps.
Math --- We use the ST math program on the iPads twice per week for 30 minutes each, and we use some math apps to practice math facts, etc.
Writing -- Students have been blogging in the lab and will eventually use the iPads to blog in the classroom.
Science and Social Studies -- We use the iPads for a variety of projects as groups and individuals. Some examples are self-portraits, matter hunt (photos around the school and an Explain Everything project of the three states of matter), four season posters, animal encyclopedia apps, etc.
Irene: I primarily use iPads as stations to reinforce basic phonics and phonemic awareness. I also use the iPads to create listening centers, recording favorite books for listening enjoyment and reading response. iPads are also being used to capture a photo of a student's written work or to record a child reading a book, poem or personal journal entry using the iTalk Recorderapp. It’s a paid application, but it links right up to Dropbox.
I also use the iPad as an incentive to written work, allowing students to retype journal entries into the iPad which they have already written by hand using the traditional pencil and paper method. I am discovering that traditional teaching methods are enhanced, rather than "lost" with the iPad.
The iPad also has many apps which reinforce basic math concepts. As far as enhancing logical thinking and problem solving skills, the iPads are also being used to pilot a supplemental math program called ST Math. ST Math was established by neuroscientists to teach math concepts through spatial temporal reasoning. The use of the iPads in this program are believed to enhance the child's "circle of knowledge," as they don't have to stop their thinking to use a mouse. Rather, the touch of a finger relays what they are thinking in a timely manner. What's more is that the students love it! They don't even realize that they are doing math because it is so much fun. They are so engaged that the only sounds you hear as a teacher when the students are using the iPads for ST Math are the "pings" when they are correct.
Are students receptive to the device, and do they understand how to use it? How are you introducing the device?
Erin: We took about 30 minutes each day during the first week to orient students to the iPads. I went over how to plug in and out, how to carry it, use headphones, get to the home screen, turn up volume, how to move and avoid deleting apps, etc.
They are unbelievably easy to use and require little "how to" instruction after some initial training.
Irene: Students are extremely receptive to the device. They have no fear when using it. They often teach me new and interesting things about the iPad by their simple curious exploration.
I introduced the iPad to the class through discussion before the devices were even in the room. We discussed rules and procedures for taking care of the iPads. I also explained that the iPads would be used for learning and that learning could be fun, but that we would not be playing games such as Angry Birds all day long. We discussed how games can help you learn and that the iPad was going to have only learning games on it. The students were fine with that. I also told them that they could earn extra time at recess and free time with the iPads as an incentive for good behavior.
After establishing rules and procedures, I taught basic skills such as the location of the home and sleep buttons on the device. The children were then taught how to use the pictures and had fun taking photos of themselves and their classmates. (This would help them in the future when they would need to capture images of their own work.) They also took a picture of a number and learned how to set it as their screen-saver. This helped them to learn their iPad number so that they could locate and retrieve their individual iPad whenever necessary. The first few sessions with the iPads were spent by having the children locate their iPad, walk it to their desk, turn it on and off and then plug the device back into its proper charging space. This kind of tedious routine-building is essential in an early elementary first grade classroom. Once they learned it, however, it was with them for good.
How do you think the device will change the learning dynamic in your classroom?
Erin: ALL children in my class have individual access to touch, respond, collaborate . . . this has made managing materials much more simple.
Irene: The iPads provide many new opportunities. I am able to have each child record their work and their reading on their own individual iPad. They love to be the star of the show, and the more they can listen to themselves, the better. Listening to their recordings with a teacher allows them to hear how well they are doing and where they need to improve. Having students listen to reading miscues on a voice recording is an invaluable teaching tool. It allows me as a teacher to teach the child valuable reading strategies which have "personal meaning." Sure, you could record reading on a tape recorder, but the iPad is so much more efficient and has more of an impact on students' incentive to do well because they know it is being saved on their own personal iPad.
Do you feel introducing technology devices at such a young age will stunt or limit students' appreciation for non-technology tools such as books?
Erin: Not really. I think it's important that we continue to expose children to classic tools, but when they can get the same information and/or build the same skills on the iPads, there's not always a need for some "older" tools. We're no longer teaching with an abacus, right? Why can't we move along with the times in our classrooms?
Erin, what are your expectations of this initiative?
Erin: I hope to help my children seek growth in all academics areas with help from the iPads.
Irene, do you feel it is a problem to introduce devices at such a young age?
Irene: Absolutely not! As with anything in life, balance is key. Variety is important. The world is changing and so is the classroom. Children need to be exposed to various tools and devices, and learn how to use all of them. My children still reach for the rich array of leveled picture books in the classroom. There are times when the classroom is "unplugged" and children gravitate towards reading books, drawing with crayons and markers and building with blocks. At other times, the iPads are available and they reach for drawing apps, electronic books and other applications. Choice enhances any learning experience whether you are an adult or child. Each child is an individual and will gravitate toward what interests them. But you have to provide the choices and direction. It's important to expose children to everything in its given time and space. Every tool and device has its place and its use. It's up to the teacher to make all of these tools and devices available to all children and teach about proper and respectful use. This will allow children to make more educated decisions as they get older.
Thank you both for your time and for being so transparent with your teaching.