Friday, August 19, 2011

The Sidwell iPad Experience, thus far

I had the opportunity to participate in part of the professional development sessions for a major iPads in Kindergarten initiative in the Auburn School District on Auburn, Maine. The project is coordinated by Mike Muir, director of the Maine Center for Meaningful, Engaged Learning. All kindergateners in Auburn will have one-to-one iPads this year. They have 400 iPads ready to go.

The Auburn project is approaching this in much the same way we are, albeit on a much larger scale, so it was a pleasure to present my thoughts and discuss plans and questions with them.

Below are the points I presented to the teachers in Auburn. I will put together my notes on the follow-up discussion for a later post.

The Sidwell iPad Experience, thus far.

Goal: to explore educational value of iPads as tools for young learners and their teachers

We identified K as the target group based on their stage in learning basic literacy and math concepts and the potential value of practice and response provided by iPad apps. The interface of the iPad with its simplicity and instant on/off makes this a form of technology that is manageable by young children.

Teachers in K, the math coordinator, and I (as project admin) were given iPads for the year. 12 student iPads were purchased and distributed for summer exploration to representatives from all grade levels and departments at lower school. The expectation was that they share their experience on our blog. The goal was to review apps and to evaluate the interface in order to help the kindergarten teachers plan effective implementation in the fall.

Based on evaluations and visits to several schools who launched iPad programs last year, the following guidelines have evolved:

1. The best learning occurs with a teacher nearby to observe, guide, respond. Therefore in our program the iPads will be used in small groups, guided by a teacher

2. All apps are not equal, and their value to your program depends on your goals, vision, and the methods of the school. In our school we rarely use reward systems to motivate students, so our teachers have universally expressed concerns about the over-the-top reactions, such as cheering, stars, medals, etc. triggered by the smallest correct answer. Having read Carol Dweck's book, Mindset, these huge rewards for small accomplishments are actually counter- productive as they create an expectation of acclimation from outward sources when what we hope to instill is a sense of determination and satisfaction with the learning process that is internal and not dependent on outward rewards.

3. Learning with technology should include a creative element that is unique to the medium. Clearly the iPad should not replace crayons, paint and chalk. How does it encourage creativity in ways that are not otherwise available to a young learner? Our teachers are most interested in using iPads as early literacy tools. They are seeking apps that offer young children the opportunity to share their ideas and practice creating narratives, expressing thoughts and ideas they can't yet share in writing. The ability to create a drawing or take a photo and narrate it aloud, or to piece together a story using elements provided, may be a boost to their early literacy skills and give teachers and parents insight into the way the student thinks and learns. If students can find new forms of self-expression using the iPad, then it has the potential to hold an important place in the classroom curriculum.

4. Many skills and concepts taught in early childhood classrooms require repetition and practice. It is effective to find a variety of ways to practice these skills and concepts, which leads us to think that adding the iPad as one form of experience makes sense. The handwriting apps that guide students to form letters correctly will provide the repetition and feedback that this age group benefits from as they work to develop appropriate handwriting skills. The apps that articulate math concepts and help students see and understand the concepts of counting, grouping, adding, and subtracting may offer practice and feedback that will provide individualized reinforcement difficult to offer in a classroom.

Of course, as previously stated, all apps are not equal. In our next phase I will ask teachers to articulate the requirements they envision for the ideal apps to accomplish the goals described here. These will be shared with those app developers who are interested in working with us, and with our Upper School computer science students who may be interested in working with us to create our own apps to meet our expectations.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reflections from Summer Users

The summer is ending and it is time to reflect on the experience of using an iPad for several months. My summer iPad users agreed to blog and share their thoughts, so I asked them to think of three discoveries they made. What follows are their reflections. It is interesting to see the similarities in their responses.

One note I will make is that our plan for the iPads in the classroom is for small group work. That means a teacher is nearby or participating in the work students engage in, just as she/he would be if they were making art, learning math concepts, or practicing reading and writing. There is little doubt in my mind that any work in school is strengthened with the presence of a teacher who encourages, notices the student's approach and process, and is aware of their accomplishments. This is true whether technology is involved or not. The question we are continuing to ask is whether this particular technology can enhance the classroom experience for young learners, and improve the note-taking and ability to share student work for the teachers.

The reflections:

The one thought I do have for the ipad student use is how to how easily a student can exit out of a given program
when things get challenging. how they manage frustration. how we teacher use the ipad to encourage perserverance.
i was watching my daughter play around and granted, she is not even 3, but if a given program is not easily intuitive and responsive to her actions, she will exit. i suppose there is something of a skill there but...

Zarya, Kindergarten

Kids love working on the iPad. It is habit forming and has to be rationed. Kids can intuitively figure out how to use the programs, which are engaging for the most part.

Puppet Pals and Story Patch invite creative story telling and thus foster writing and reading skills.

Motion Math was a fun, interactive way for an 8 year old to practice his knowledge of fractions. Turning the screen to direct the ball was exciting for him.

Alpha Tots was engaging and interactive for a 3 year old. She stayed with it for all 26 letters.
Diane, Early Childhood

1. Teaching children, especially younger children, how to interact with the screen is important.  Younger children may get easily frustrated by having to tap very specific areas or drag objects around very often.

2. Questions about reward structure of some games/apps.  Winning gold stars or trophies raises the question of external versus internal motivation.  LIke some games, but wanted the ability to turn OFF the rewards.

3. Navigation through apps - many of the apps I found the strongest allowed the participant to navigate through the activities/tasks easily, the method of navigation was clear (not just some random indecipherable icon) and integrated into the screen layout.  Also, the strongest apps afford the participants the ability to tailor the game to their abilities (moving between activities freely within the app, selecting the "level" you wish to play).

Brian, First grade

I still feel strongly that iPads should only be used in limited amounts as supplementary math stations...never take the place of the children experiencing hands on counting and work with manipulative materials including blocks, tangrams, cusenaire rods etc.......
I am also concerned that every game/activity has bells and whistles, applause and superlatives when the student has success. It isn't that children don't deserve positive feedback,it is just that they can't depend or should not learn that this is what learning entails...because how will they ever develop there own sense of accomplishment and satisfaction...and how to just feel content doing and learning as well as making mistakes...
I was working with a K graduate this summer who enjoyed the iPad but really wanted the interaction with me as a teacher and I honestly think he enjoyed the iPad more because I was sitting right next to him.
Materials and gadgets are great but the bottom line is face to face interaction, discussion and personal specific feedback make for the best learning conditions.

Merry, Math Coordinator

Dragon Dictation might be an interesting tool for older kids.  We often sit down one on one with the kids that have trouble writing.  It usually is the case that they just need to talk it out to get started.  With Dragon Dictation, I think a teacher could work with 2 or 3 kids at a time (each with an iPad) so we could talk as a group, then when they have a solid idea, they could go "talk it out" with the iPad.  It might be worth exploring.

- I LOVE the "stack the states" and "stack the countries" apps.  My kids do too.  They are really a fun way to learn about geography and spatial relationships.  If you haven't tried them yet, you should!

-Recording movies on an iPad is really easy.  I can see situations where teachers record certain lessons or kids working together or alone, then have the ability to review it later for report notes, or show the video to parents at conferences as an example.  It could be really useful.
 Eve, Fourth grade

1. I need to test all apps with students before assuming that they will/will not like it.

2. Great tool but for chinese for elementary school students I am still struggling to find super apps. I feel sure that some will be developed over the next year or two as it grows in popularity in China.

3. I can see using ipads in class as a nice way to have students review using a different tool. For example sometimes we would have students do their work on little white boards and then hold the boards up to show us. This use of a "cool tool" was a great way to engage students and keep things different. So for ipads I could see in third grade it would be a great way to work on memorizing the US states, and for math review.

Thanks or xiexie
Edith, Chinese 

I am excited about using evernote to document student work

I really like the idea of the iPad replacing the hand held whiteboards that students use for handwriting practice

I want to know if an all ebook listening center is something anyone else uses in their classrooms and would like to move our listening center to the iPads.

Denise, Kindergarten

In terms of the kids vs adult ease of use, I agree with someone ( I forget who) who blogged that sometimes things that seemed cumbersome or unwieldy to us as adults are really  not bothersome to the kids. One app in particular ( I think it was Fish HD) seemed very visually confusing ot me, with the fish forming the letters and swimming in and out of the letter form to do so. It did not seem to bother my little six hear old friend who was experimenting for me. Having said that, I do think it would be visually confusing for many of my students, who may not be as visually secure as some of their peers.

Some of the apps seemed a bit like glorified video games to me, while others seemed good as reinforment tools for material already taught and still others actually helped with critical thinking. One of my very favorite apps is the Coin Math!

As far as a teacher tool, I can see alot of good uses here, as well. Also, just as far as logistics are concerned, it is certainly light weight, easy to pull out quickly to use and the battery seems to last a good long while. The touch tone key board is extremely sensitive and sometimes frustrating in that sense. I know there is a key board that one can purchase to use with the ipad, but then it seems like you might as well be toting your laptop around. Still, I loved using it! There is something absolutuely fun about it!

Louise, Learning Specialist

1. I think there is good potential with the ipads, but I am wary of them replacing real world experiences, especially those that are tactile.  With that said, I am starting to see some ways, and imagine that there are far more than I have realized, that the ipad can give students and teachers unique or improved experiences.  I am interested in continuing to search these out.

2. Motion Math.  I like how there is such a quick connection with the game developer, plus all the things I like about this game.  I plan to email Jacob about ideas I have that could create a fraction game that would work for younger children as well.  I like how the technology both lends itself to such a multi-intelligent and interesting game while also creating a direct link with the creators--not necessarily all ipad specific things, but interesting to me.

3. The ipad is changing my thinking about how to document, collect, and organize classroom notes, plans, and ideas.  Right now I am thinking about this through Evernote.  I have already created a notebook for each student and am envisioning using the simple photo and voice recording features of the ipad to assist in my note taking and collecting insights about kids.  I could see discussing a detail with parents at a conference and then pulling up a picture of it actually happening since I was able to take it with the ipad.

4.  Thinking far beyond game apps.  When I started with the ipad apps I was mostly going through games, which many of them are and most of which I did not care for.  But then I started to think beyond and using other apps.  Interestingly I found an entire textbook of sorts focused on Jamestown.  It has great images, videos, and well written and researched text.  Some is too advanced for my students but I can see using this app in class.  By reading some pieces of the other blogs that you connected to ours, I have also seen some really interesting ideas, such as creating photo albums where studnets can flip through and record their thoughts, tell a story, answer questions verbally, and so on.  Overall I realize there is a much larger world of apps and possibilities out there and would like more time to search and think through them and to try some ideas out in class.

5. Games.  Despite looking beyond games, I also think having games for kids to play connected to basic skill practice once and a while on the ipad can be fun and engaging.  I actually bought a magnetic dart board for a similar reason, fun fact practice.

6. I could see using the ipad as a convenient recording device of sorts to use in student assessments and to help conduct student interviews, but I have not worked through this much.

Overall, I hope I will be able to hold onto the ipad throughout the year and to experiment and keep searching.  It continues to be worthwhile.

Maurice, 3rd grade

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The iPad Experience from the Child's Viewpoint

iPad Choices of a 3½ year old girl
Alpha Tots was engaging for my 3½ year old. She liked the airplane flying in the letters and then having something to do, like build a robot. She learned quickly to press on a letter until the program was ready to present the next letter. Some activities were hard for her to figure out. For the letter G the watering can had to be held up high in order for the tomatoes to grow. For the letter S, stacking the rings in the right order was frustrating even though she has performed that task many times before in real life.
Alphabet Tracing: She liked tracing the letters. She didn’t pay attention to the arrow directions but enjoyed making letters on the screen.
Intro To Letters: She liked looking at the letters but had trouble using the record button at the right time.
Intro to Math: She liked tracing the numbers. She seemed fascinated by the sound of touching sandpaper when the program ball traced the number. She waited until the ball finished before she traced the number.
Doodle Buddy, Draw Free, Chalkboard and Brushes were interesting also. She liked using her finger to make lines, curves and dots and change colors.
Blocks!: This program was her first choice, as the lego blocks are a familiar sight. Creating designs with different colors and shapes was fun for her.
iPad Choices of an 8 ½ year old boy
Motion Math HD was great fun and required effort on his part. It “made fractions fun” he said. He didn’t mind missing the correct answer. The motion part was good for him.
Count the Coins: He could move the coins around for better counting, but he didn’t stay with it very long.
Puppet Pals: He loved that program. He easily made stories with sound effects and dialogue. He concentrated on it for quite a while and enjoyed the creative aspect. 
Story Patch: Another favorite because he could makeup a story.  He used the help feature to create the story but he was delighted to choose visuals from the menu.
Kid Paint: He loved creating a picture. He made one with perspective – cars on a bridge over water with boats. 
Garage Band: He easily created a song using different instruments and added vocals too.
Blocks!: He also enjoyed creating with the lego type blocks. Adding people figures gave it a story dimension for him.
Posted by Diane McDougall

Friday, August 12, 2011

"I had it first!..."

No, that's not the cry of frustration from my nearly 7 year old or even from my nearly 2 year old (whose preference would be to yell "MINE" to the very top of her lungs). Instead it is the defense of my 40+ husband upon my chastising him to "Give the ipad back to the baby!" The addition of the ipad to our household has brought both delight and chaos to our lives!

This summer has been a HUGE foray in general for our family into the world of acquiring and actually utilizing up to date technological devices and services. Let's see, as a birthday gift for my husband, I surprised him with a brand spanking new 32" flat screen TV equipped to communicate with all other technologies in our home (save kitchen appliances). We switched and upgraded our cable, phone and Internet service to one which would best enable full blossom of the aforementioned communication and wait for it...for the VERY first time have wireless signals wafting through the air. We are watching movies online and cruising You tube and Face book from wherever we want. We are synching and sharing music, photos and video from ipods and laptops. We are beginning to experiment with video chatting and considering major upgrades to the potential of our outdated cell phones. All of this jump started by the knowledge that we would have an ipad in the house to experiment and play with this summer.

For most of you I'll bet your lives have already been made more convenient and streamlined by the very things we have just begun to embrace. Perhaps these things have brought you and your family pleasure as well as some precious time by making communication with family and friends more concise, succinct and coordinated (or maybe the opposite as keeping up with Face book has easily become a 45 minute a day activity?). We are slowly getting the hang of it all, slowly.

The ipad has been a marvel for us. I have been impressed by so many of it's aspects overall. It is just the right size and just the right weight for every member of our house to use. It is solidly constructed and sturdy as it's kinda' sorta' been banged up a bit during various tugs of war (between siblings and with visiting cousins and friends) and handling in general. It's held up very well and with no nicks, scrapes, cracks or breaks. I have been truly amazed with how easy it is to operate and to access and utilize apps. My 6 1/2 year old has been able to quite independently open, figure out, use and master most of the age appropriate learning and game apps much to her delight as she has no other gaming devices. She is now addicted in no time flat. What is really ridiculous is that my 1 1/2 year old has watched us intently and when given the ipad she can press the button to reveal or hide apps. She can scroll to the side until she gets to her apps of choice which are usually my first tangrams, animal sights and sounds and You tube where she can completely O.D. on Elmo and Sesame Street clips. She too is jonesing for her ipad time each day (ugh, and night). Just the knowledge that it is in the house has become something that they look forward to upon entering the house or shortly thereafter. This has been a challenge and we have had to put our foot (feet?) down, cut them off and move them on to activities that require absolutely no technology. Of course, this usually solicits bouts of objecting, whining and sometimes crying.

Having only an early generation ipod and a truly archaic cell phone (which does not even have a QWERTY key pad) I was not acquainted with the scrolling, pinching, touching, tapping and dragging screens to access and manipulate information and entertainment material. Although I utilize the Smart board in my classroom and perform some of these actions, this is certainly different. I too have enjoyed the ease of access and ability to perform various functions and to explore apps. I have downloaded some great free art apps with fantastic potential for class room use. Some enable interesting art and design making potential with finger or photography as well as some that provide access to museum collections, publications and art games. I look forward to reviewing some of these in the very near future.

For my husband the ipad has been all about ANGRY BIRDS! Okay, he also finds the Star Walk amazing and has been caught walking around with the Compass app up revealing where true north is. Angry birds has become his thing to do, his thing to fiddle with when his mind is racing, sort of like how I bite my thumbnails or crack open sunflower seeds one after another after another. Of course the fact that it is the coolest, sleekest and most fun device in the house from which he can access email and search the web is highly appealing to him.

Every one in our household has had some difficulty breaking free from the ipads mesmerizing siren call. We are affectionately changing its name to the "Mine pad".