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.