Saturday, May 14, 2011

iPads, Playtime & Policy-making

Should young children be given iPads in school?  That's being debated in Auburn, Maine as the kindergartners there are taking part in a pilot project.  My first thought was "lucky class"!  However, I began to wonder if this wasn't a question to at least consider further, as I began to read Abigal Curtis' article .
We can't get away from the fact that gadgets: handheld electronic devices, cell phones, portable DVD players,mP3 players, DSIs, point and click digital cameras and computers in various shapes, sizes and colours, to name a few, are part and parcel of young children's life experiences.  We can only hope that they also get lots of opportunities to play outside in the mud, chase bubbles and curl up to someone sharing books with them before they come to school. 

As a former primary teacher, I am familiar with the necessity/dilemma of finding a balance between learning through play and learning in the expected 'academic style' – those more traditional paper and pencil/book learning tasks we associate with school.  How would having iPads change and impact the teaching and learning appropriate with such young students? Could it add to a teacher's repertoire or would it be more of a distraction?

As a parent of four, I am fully aware of the almost addictive engagement electronic screens can have on children who can find it challenging - nope, impossible - to hit the off button!  To have similar devices in a classroom of five year olds who have yet to develop self-regulatory skills is a legitimate question. (Of course, it's also applicable at other grades.)

Some concern is mentioned in the article about children tuning out the teacher, or their peers, if they have iPads.  That speaks as much to how the iPads are being utilized and how people see the role of the teacher in classrooms. As with any activity, I'm sure these children will be provided with opportunities to explore and play; they will be guided to discover through particular applications and may be taught explicitly to gain the most out of other apps.  

Until more teachers have opportunities to work with them and determine how best to use them in our early childhood programs, as well as primary and elementary classrooms, how can we address concerns about social interactions, literacy development or the depth of learning? 
I agree with Blagojevic, an Apple Distinguished Educator, who states in the article:
    "Essentially, I'm not thinking we need to push the technology onto the children. But what we need to do responsibly is realize that the technology is going to be used by them, and we need to figure out how best to do that." 
Teachers need to become well-versed in the various devices and ways they can effectively enhance teaching and learning; with an iPad, the applications that offer new and interactive ways to use the technology so that it supports the teaching and learning desired. 

As pointed out by Gail Garthwait, an associate professor of education at the University of Maine, iPads offer ease of use for young fingers that have yet to develop the dexterity for many keyboard-reliant activities.  Additionally iPads have been very useful for many of our students with Special Needs. I have seen how the quick touch of a finger on a handheld iPod has made communication for a child with autism instant, and audible. It's also worth mentioning the shared experience of having this 'cool' tool - like his peers - to listen to music or flick through games.  Powerful stuff!

 Taken from

I would love to become familiar with the apps that aid in quick and fulfilling connections to information and ideas. I have heard and read about other apps that allow students to create and compose a wide variety of mutimodal texts and share them easily with others. In particular, I recognize the collaborative practices that can be easily afforded through the use of technology such as iPads.
I have yet to have one in my hands long enough to be familiar with its full potential however I know I DEFINITELY want to, and intend to lobby for getting one in my school or classroom whenever the opportunity arises.

Those who DO know the impact technology can have in our classrooms must continue to raise awareness and educate others in the field.  Together I think we need to aid policy-makers and purchasers in understanding the very real benefits of technological advances such as iPads.

So YES, Kindergartners and any other class that CAN, should be able to play and learn on an iPad!

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