A little over a year ago, I won a contest from Best Buy Canada. The contest asked applicants to write about what they would purchase at Best Buy if they had any amount up to $20 000 to spend. Since it had long been my dream to be a one to one classroom, and I was intrigued by the possibilities that iPads held for young children, I chose to say that I would purchase a class set of iPads. Much to my delight, I was chosen as a winner, and I had the opportunity to go on the shopping trip of a lifetime! (This contest now appears to have disappeared.)
While the initial and on-going management of 30 iPads is no mean feat, I have loved having this opportunity for my students. Some day I may blog about specific apps or ways of using them that work particularly well for me, but this summer has given me an opportunity to reflect on some of the overall changes that have happened in my classroom.
One of my fears when I was able to put a device into the hands of every student was that the students might focus on the screen, the way many children do with a television or a computer. Those children become absorbed by the device, ignoring all that is going on around them.
Happily, this has not at all proved to be the case for us. The students did not want to just use the iPads; they wanted to share them. The hum of voices excitedly talking to their peers about what they were doing was just the same as it had always been. They just had different things to share.
Oddly, this showed up in an interesting way in my classroom. The couch was a popular place to work, but once that was full, some students would pull chairs next to the couch forming a line of learners sitting side by side. This happened over and over. When that line was “full”, the next students would make a line in front of the couch. The only logical reason I could see for this was their ease in sharing what was on their screen. And share they did. There was a constant chorus of “how did you do that?” and “look what I did” going on in my classroom.
Sharing Their Learning
Over many years, I have been moving from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered one. One of the things I have come to value most highly is choice. I have offered my students as much choice in how they learn and in how they demonstrate their learning as I can. The iPads have given my students so many more opportunities for choice.
For example, at the end of a unit of inquiry, I ask the students to share their learning with me through an artifact that they create. There were always a few digital choices available in my classroom, but the iPads have given us a rich variety of options that were just not available before. The students can now choose to use photos, podcasts, screencasts, video, inter-active books…well, you get the idea. My only criteria is that whatever they produce, they must have some kind of digital product that can be archived on their digital portfolio.
Interestingly, the run away favourite way to sum up what they knew was to draw pictures with markers, to post these pictures on a large sheet of construction paper and to make a video of themselves talking about the images they had drawn. The iPads offered a variety of ways to do this.
Keeping students engaged is never really an issue in grade one. Six year olds are interested in most anything. If I told them we were going to do some rote practice of math facts with enough enthusiasm, they would probably cheer about it. Having said that, they were indeed engaged! The opportunity for them to have access to a device with a variety of apps that could allow them to explore and create was something they loved. My children were not using their iPads in every spare moment—they still liked other classroom tools such as Lego, dominos and drawing paper—but the iPads were a popular choice, even at lunch hour or recess when the weather was too cold to go outside.
Having iPads gave my students a new way to learn things that were not part of our curriculum. I put some apps on our iPads just because I thought they looked interesting, and not because I had a direct plan for them. One of the apps that I put on the iPads was GarageBand. I had never used it, but I knew that other teachers had used it in interesting ways, so I added it. I didn’t get around to figuring out how to use it, but my students did. They taught themselves and then taught me as well. We were able to save some of their music and to use it for our classroom videos. The same was true of a clay molding app called 123D Sculpt. Again, the students taught themselves how to use it. We never did post any of these clay creations anywhere, but the students loved to use it.
This past year, my students were fascinated by what you could do with dominos—both with setting them on their ends and watching them fall and with seeing how high they could be stacked. They tried various ways to stack and as they got better at this, one student or another would document this learning as it was happening. They did this independently, without any prompting from me. It was just something that they wanted to do.
I strive to help my students to understand themselves as learners. I want them to choose ways to help themselves learn that work for them, not necessarily for me. For some skills, such as reading, spelling and counting, there is just no substitute for practice. The iPads gave my students additional ways to practice each of these skills, finding a way that best helped them to learn. I would sometimes suggest a way to practice that I thought would work well, but I generally trusted them to make the decisions they needed to make for what worked for them.
To practice each of these skills, my students sometimes chose digital and sometimes non-digital means. For example, I put many eBooks on the Kindle app on our iPads as an option for our independent reading time. The students could also read blog posts by the teachers or students in other classrooms. They could read our Twitter feed. Or they could read books. Some students preferred digital and some preferred non-digital, but most moved seamlessly back and forth between the two.
There was something very special for my students in having their own device. They never had to wait their turn. Whenever they needed it for learning, it as available to them. All of the photos, videos and other artifacts on the iPad were theirs. No one was deleting things that were important to them. They looked after the charging and care of their iPad. If they forgot to charge their battery, they had to stand by the charging shelf as they worked. I don’t think anyone had to do that twice.
I realize that money is a huge factor in the one to one issue. There are presently very few models that allow this choice for everyone. No other classrooms in my school have this option. Having seen the results for myself though, I think we need to do some outside of the box thinking about how we can make this happen. I know one teacher who held weekly pizza sales at lunch to make it work in her classroom. Do you have other ideas? I’d like to hear them. This kind of learning needs to be spread around.