One-to-one laptop programs commonly begin in upper elementary or later for most schools. The introduction of iPads and the rapid creation of apps with educational intentions has caused many of us to venture into the world of 1-1 or at least 1-2 computers in the youngest grades. This year our school will have one iPad for every two students in kindergarten and first grade. Our fourth graders will be one-to-one iPads, replacing the netbooks they previously had.
Gary Stager of stager.org, and Shelly Luke Wille, head of The Chadwick International School in South Korea, shared their experiences with laptops in first grade during the ISTE 2012 conference. Seeing the wonderful work young children were doing on MacBooks, Gary made some strong arguments for giving younger children computers that are the most powerful and flexible, not the least. Seymour Papert's vision of children and computers is that the child should program the computer, not the computer program the child. The greatest learning occurs when the child can freely create, program, be an engineer, design video games, make movies, and generally get control over their world. If we give them computers that aren't flexible enough, or capable of handling their vision, we are missing a great opportunity. As Gary said, "The computer you buy for kids should do everything they want to do on it, so you need to be sure it has that capacity."
So the gauntlet is thrown. Is the iPad flexible enough, and does it have the capacity to allow kids to do everything they want to do on it? At our Connections Conference in Washington, DC last week, we held all day hands-on workshops, one of which was focused on designing curriculum for students using iPads. In this workshop we shared experiences from this year, and discovered that our teachers, and the teachers at Flint Hill School where iPads are 1-1 in every primary class, were most excited by the projects their kids made from photos and videos they took, with stop motion animation, and by "mashing up" apps in such a way that they could make their projects to be exactly what they envisioned.
While it is true that apps must be found and often purchased that offer this type of flexibility, it is also true that programs must be purchased and installed on computers. The interaction between apps is not the user's choice, but rather, the app developer's choice, but kids found their way around that with screen shots, or by uploading work and downloading into another app. No doubt we all want our kids to feel the agency over the device that leads them to intuit work arounds without asking or being taught to do so. This was one of Gary's expectations, that the computer gives agency to the learner.
The additional factor is form, flexibilty, and classroom storage. There is no doubt the iPad has a lead on that scale, especially for the younger users.
So the jury is out. Weigh in if you like, and help decide the argument!