iPad in the Primary Classroom – Go for it!

I feel very fortunate to be teaching at technology rich school. In my grade one classroom I have a document camera, projector, apple tv, teacher iPad and access to a class set of iPads several times a week. Although technology is not an area that I have ever been particularly fond of or knowledgable in, it has become an integral part of my teaching over the last two years. I have found the iPads in particular to be a very useful tool.

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I value differentiated instruction. Having students that are engaged and active participants in their own learning is important to me. I cringe at the thought of teaching a lesson that will frustrate some, bore others and hopefully meet the needs of at least some of my students. Handing out the same math questions or reading response to 24 individual people and expecting it to be meaningful to everyone is just not realistic. That being said there are only so many hours in the day and as a working mom I have always struggled to find the time to meet the individual learning needs of all my students, all the time. This is what sparked my passion for integrating technology into classroom learning. I embraced the iPad as a tool and have found it allows me to provide each learner with activities suited to their learning needs. It also allows me to do my job more efficiently. I find myself spending less time creating and managing activities and more time with my students.

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When the Surrey Primary Teachers Association asked me to host a workshop dedicated to the use of iPads in a primary classroom I was quite surprised. I really did not consider that some teachers had access to iPads and were not using them. I was curious to know what teachers would be hoping to gain from an afternoon at my school so I sent the participants some questions using Survey Monkey.

The results are very interesting. Teachers who are obviously passionate about their craft (since they have registered for an after school workshop) are not using all the available tools to enhance their lessons.

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Technology is such a new concept for so many people and it seems like people worry they do not have enough baseline knowledge to bring it into their classrooms. I honestly believe that teachers wanting to explore iPads need to make a shift in their thinking. As teachers, we do not need to know everything about iPads. You can bring them into your classroom knowing very little, as I did. Our role is to provide the learning environment and curricular goals, from there we can simply facilitate and learn with our students. Using technology such as an iPad is not a new ‘subject’ that we need to teach. It integrates nicely into all areas of the curriculum and serves to facilitate the learning process. It is quite a powerful experience to learn alongside a 5 or 6 year old. Just put an iPad in their hands, give them a few guidelines and watch as they explore, create and learn.

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If you are a teacher who has been hesitant to bring iPads into your classroom I really do encourage you to just take the plunge and go with the flow. For those who need a more structured approach here is a play by play of how I get iPads going in my grade one classroom and some of the things we do with them.

~ I bring iPads into my classroom during the first two weeks of school.( We have a cart that holds 30 iPads and is shared between 13 classes. All teachers sign up for one 45 minute block per week and open blocks can then be reserved on a weekly basis.) At first, an adult will be responsible to take them out of or put them into the cart but I eventually pass this on to my students. Before I hand out iPads for the first time we meet as a class to talk about our experiences with iPads. This year almost all of my students had used an iPad at least once and many had one at home. We talk about taking care to only touch the screen with the pad of one finger and other considerations such as no water bottles on desks with the iPads and carrying them with two hands. The only thing I talk to them about the first time is the home button and tell them they can touch it to get out of an app. Other than that for the first couple of times we use the iPads it is all about exploring and sharing. Allowing the students to explore on their own gives me time to assess their comfort level and knowledge of the technology.

~ One of the first things I introduce to my class is the camera. They love taking pictures with the iPad and once we get into creative apps knowing how to take and edit pictures is very useful. When I do have something specific to demonstrate I do so before students get their iPads and use my iPad connected to my projector (this is now a breeze with apple tv). The iPad cover can sometimes make it difficult for kids to take a picture so I show them how to fold it up and hold it or advise them to ask a friend to take the picture as they hold up the iPad. I take a picture with my iPad and then show them where the edit button is. I show them where the rotate and crop buttons are and then give them time to take a few pictures and practice editing them. We also learn how to take a screen shot.

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~ The second thing I like to have kids practice is working with the keyboard. Here is one simple introduction to the keyboard that also uses their new camera skills. Using Skitch I ask students to take a picture of a classmate (with their permission) and write the sentence “This is my friend …”

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I find the iPad keyboard to be very user friendly and students need minimal directions before they feel capable to type on their own.

~ From this point I usually introduce one new creative app a week such as Scribble Press or Book Creator. Although we use the iPads to practice our math and language art skills I find these apps to be very self explanatory. Apps that are in the folder I label ‘creative’ can be used for a multitude of projects and we visit them throughout the year. I like the kids to feel comfortable with these apps because later on they can demonstrate their learning using whichever one they want. Here are a few examples of books my students made using Book Creator:

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For teachers sitting on the fence and waiting to take the plunge with iPads in their primary classroom – just go for it! I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you will learn with your students and what this wonderful tool can bring to your classroom.

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