Last year I volunteered in my child’s Kindergarten class daily for an hour with our family’s three iPads. I learned a lot about selecting educational content (primarily early math & literacy apps) and how to set up an environment most conducive for learning. I was most impressed by the potential for mobile devices to improve the experience in class for both teachers and students. So this year I volunteered to bring our iPads into my child’s First grade class once a week for ‘buddy reading’. As I do more outreach and training for local teachers in my community, I am surprised at the large number of classrooms getting devices without any guidelines about how to integrate them into their existing institutional structures or curriculum. From these experiences, I have come up with the following five tips for starting a new program in any classroom …
5 Tips for Introducing Devices to the Elementary School Classroom:
1. Know Your Device - Whether you have iPads, Kindles, Android tablets or any other mobile device coming into your classroom, it is essential for the teacher to play with it a bit. It is especially important to check out the settings, which vary a lot between devices and even updates to each operating system. Also test out accessories like headphones, styluses, cases and any connectors to devices in your classroom (projectors, smart board, computer or tv screens). Getting to know the device can take time but is well worth the effort if you are going to use it as a tool with young students.
2. Know Your Content - Just like any other curriculum decision, picking content for kids on today’s digital devices takes thoughtful consideration. If you have a list of apps already recommended, check each one out and if possible, test it with a child to see how they interact with the content and if they have any questions as they navigate the app. Get to know content options like apps, but also go beyond apps to consider content in eBook stores (like Kindle, Nook & iBooks) as well as ways to open .pdf documents on mobile devices for maximum flexibility in the classroom. A few succinct searches on Google is all it takes to find many credible resources on the web (or check out our post about review sites and research/evaluation resources).
3. Know Your Audience - Consider the students needs when using the devices in class. The ideal way to use mobile devices in the classroom will depend a lot on individual temperaments, learning needs, developmental skills, experience with technology, age and also interests of the students involved. Be prepared to alter your approach if the first plan doesn’t work well, but start with a plan. Many teachers blog about iPad programs for individual grades or subject matter, so doing some research in advance, especially about which apps to try first, can be very useful.
4. Know Ways to Create Content (not just how to consume it) - Finding good apps can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack sometimes, but it is important to remember that using devices in the classroom doesn’t have to be about apps at all. Students can create their own content too, using a variety of tools built right into most devices. The camera(s) and microphones offer endless possibilities for creative, student-driven projects, for instance. There are also many simple apps that can expand on the built in abilities of each device. The best resources for finding out how to do this are online, like this EdTechTeacher site.
5. Know Your Goals – Last, but not least, it is vital to answer the following question: What do you hope to get out of using devices in the classroom? Answers vary to this question, but often include tech competency, digital literacy, basic skill support, creative expression, reading inspiration, social engagement and/or a reward system to motivate students to finish other class projects. Whatever the goal, it is helpful to clarify it with your students, parents and school community (as well as yourself) to guide the implementation of a device program in the classroom. Not only will this improve the success of the program in class, but it can also help foster the use of devices in the larger community for student learning. Some teachers will even provide parents with a list of apps used in class or a summer ‘play list’ for families who have devices at home as part of a goal to prevent summer ‘learning loss’.
Extra Tip – Know Your Budget: Every teacher has a strict budget and most of the ones I have met are very savvy shoppers. The app market is perfect for teachers, with lots of great content that is free or only a few dollars. Stretching what little budget you may have for apps takes a little bit of effort but can have big payoffs. If possible, having one person at your school or district level that keeps track of temporary price drops on an app wish list from teachers is very useful. Individual teachers can also stock up during predictable sales events, like the weekly App Friday specials from MomsWithApps. Other good times to watch for price drops include major holidays and ‘awareness’ days/months for specific topics of interest. Teachers can also test out lite versions and/or create a wish list of apps using websites like AppShopper.com (our favorite at Digital-Storytime). Schools can also get app discounts for bulk purchases via Apple’s Education Volume Purchase Plan. Many teachers have maintained school-based devices entirely on free apps, so beyond the cost of the device and accessories, apps can often be purchased on a very limited budget. While many of the highest quality apps will rarely be free, teachers will find that just a few dollars goes a long way in the educational app market.
I hope these tips will be helpful to teachers and welcome more feedback in the comments. The next post in this series will detail my experience using book apps in the first grade classroom for partner or ‘buddy reading’ in pairs.
If you have any wisdom to share about this topic, please feel free to comment or post your questions below!