I am delighted that my school is implementing a comprehensive technology curriculum this year, under my direction. But one of the challenges of planning for one hour a week per grade is finding meaningful activities to fill that time, which are actually within our school’s technical ability to implement. There is a finite quantity of iPads and computers at my disposal. They have a finite quantity of space for apps and media. There are usage restrictions on what websites we can avail ourselves of (we have an admin with a phobia of YouTube, for instance!). iPads must be charged. Lab time must be scheduled. All of this must be balanced with the pedagogical aims of the lesson.
I find more and more that, just as I did with my home iPad use, I am getting over the whole ‘buy an app for every use’ style of tablet usage. At home it was more about not wanting to spend forever on apps which were not maintained and which would vanish from my cloud without any notice. At school, it’s simply a lack of time to download and organize apps on a growing fleet of devices. I am relying more these days on multi-use apps which can apply for multiple purposes. How does this look in practice? Here are some examples.
1) Emerging Readers
We are a K-3 school, and so we have a lot of apps to teach phonics. Some of these, I have kept. A few got the boot because they required individual accounts for each user. That’s fine if you’re using them at home with one or two kids, but is a royal pain when you’re trying to do a lesson with 20 kids at a time! I now avoid any app store download which involves a log-in.
So what am I using instead? A simple, 99-cent digital whiteboard app. The kindergarten teachers do all their work on a classroom laptop which is used to power the SMARTboard. It’s easy for me to pull up their weekly sight word list and put it up for the kids. They simply go into the app and use their finger to draw out the words.
I can also spell the words out for them. We do this phonetically, to get them used to reading using letter sounds. So, I might spell out ra-aah-ma and they have to decode and write out ‘ram.’ With my older grades, I turn move it into the Pages app and use their spelling words as an activity for typing practice.
2) Independent Readers
We had a few picture book apps such as ‘Goodnight Moon.’ I don’t look for those anymore. I have my Grade 3s quite comfortable with iBooks now, and I am going to start using the iPads with my guided reading groups. Right now, the books for that are in large, bulky bins spread out across different classrooms. I am so looking forward to being able to run a part of that program off one tiny tablet!
We also have two students who are on an IEP plan, which customizes aspects of their program for them due to a special need. We have an app that lets their teacher snap a quick photo of a worksheet which the student can then use a stylus to complete on the iPad. This has assisted these students, who struggle with auditory processing and fine motor development.
My biggest issue has been that, prior to my development of a school-wide IT curriculum this year, the iPads were used mostly as a ‘free choice’ activity, and it has been hard for me to re-train the students to view them as learning tools. Several times, I have not even brought one to class with me because I planned to do something else, and the students have been disappointed. I have also had students rush through the actual planned activity so that they could get to the ‘free time’ part.
I think that having fewer apps will minimize the ‘game-like’ aspect and help students focus. I am not opposed to games, or to students having free time. And I know that is how they use the iPads at home. But I want to get them thinking a little bigger. We’ll be doing programming later this year! I don’t want them to think that playing Toca Birthday Party is the be-all, end-all of ‘iPad Time.’