Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A reflection from a first grade teacher on iPads in her classroom

First Grade Teacher Meade Guignon wrote this reflection on her first experiences with iPads in her classroom. In the Fall of 2011 we deployed small iPad "centers" in our two first grade classrooms as apilot project in addition to our established 1-to-1 iPad program and pilots in other grades.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The long holiday break is just around the corner. For teachers, that indicates several things. For one, it means that the longest stretch in the year is over. Students are settled into their routines, foundations and expectations have been set, and classrooms feel comfortable and broken in. For me, it also is a time to reflect on how much we have to be grateful for. At San Domenico, I am so truly lucky that my students are creative and curious, my colleagues are gifted, and I feel supported by our administrative team. But even in addition to our positive working environment, we have been provided with tools and training to integrate technology in truly groundbreaking ways.It is almost daunting to be at the beginning of the curve in terms of technology, especially in terms of iPads in education. There are no precedents to many of the situations in which we find ourselves. However, these circumstances can also be the most fertile ground for new discoveries, possibilities, and even personal growth.When I learned we’d be having iPads in our first gradeclassrooms, I balked. I want my students to be hands-on, collaborative learners, and I am uncomfortable with the idea of more screen time for our children. These children do not need any more exposure to technology, the Internet, and video games than they already have.

But when my students heard we’d be having iPads in the classroom, the excitement brewed. I realized that this was not something I could fight and I’d have to release a little bit of my resistance. After some initial research and exploration, I forced myself to warm up to the idea. The students would still be tactile, moving, writing, pointing, and dragging on the iPad, I told myself. They would not be just playing games, and there were plenty of applications geared towards primary education. I simplyneeded to have a tight grip on what they were doing and manage it from every angle.

As the first weeks of school flew by, the children asked, “When are we going to use the iPads?” I didn’t think I was ready to manage it, I hadn’t planned any lessons with the iPad, and I wanted nothing to do with the disagreements and whining I’d surely encounter from 6 and 7 year olds that are not great at sharing. But I quickly learned that once again, I’d need to release my need for control and jump in with both feet. The children were not relenting.

I had found a couple of apps that I thought would at least keep them occupied in a useful way- sight word practice, basic math, phonics exercises. They weren’t perfect apps, and I didn’t feel like I could customize them in the way I wanted, but they were at least related to content I was covering in class. I had one conversation about appropriate use and the privilege of working with the iPads, and I ensured everyone that they’d all have equal opportunities to use them. And basically, I handed them off.

I chose a sight word app for the day, and students used the iPads as a center activity while I taught guided reading with a small group, and another group worked in their phonics workbook. I had shown them the basics of the app, but mostly, they figured it out themselves. They were quiet, engaged, and frighteningly, having fun. They were helping each other and collaborating. And best of all, they were practicing sight words. Some of the other kids were a little distracted, losing focus on their workbook or ontheir reading so that they could watch the kids on the iPads, but a few reminders that it would be their turn soon solved that problem. It was, essentially, not a disaster.

After just a couple more sessions like the first, pulling out the iPads for a center or small group activity became as normal as pulling out our phonics workbooks, our writing binders, or our “just right books”. And in math, the same pattern occurred. The apps weren’t perfect, and they never replaced our lessons with manipulatives, but they have served as an exciting way to practice basic number sense, addition, and subtraction. I’ve started to find trends in apps, and I’ve identified several app developers that I like. As we move further along in the year’s curriculum, I’m sure we will use more content based apps for time, money, and geometry. For now, the students are able to work independently on the iPad, and are actively practicing important concepts connected to our curriculum.

I have quite a ways to go with my iPad integration. My goals for this year include using apps that allow the students to record a story they’ve written. I’d like to use the iPads to teach a lesson, maybe through a projector or maybe in a small group. I want to find the time to totally customize the wonderful spelling apps that exist so that they are differentiated and meet my students exactly at their developmental level.

Until then, however, I’ll continue to follow my students’ lead in terms of interest level and desire to challenge themselves, as they often ask to try levels on apps that I know are too tough for them. Normally, I would never want them to do this; I’ve always wanted to control their level and exposure to material, and never felt comfortable releasing this tight grip. However, at this point, what’s the harm? They are excited and having fun in the classroom. As scary as that sounds, they may actually learn something, too.

My favorite first grade apps that I’ve used in center activities:

Montesorri Crosswords
Little Speller Three Letter Words
Little Speller Sight Words
Word Magic
Math Bingo
Find Sums
Grow Your Garden
Little Reader Four Letter Words
Word Blocks (although there are no settings for this app)

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