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iPads in the Early Years

September, 2012
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img_0711-copyStarting the new school year at Beijing BISS International School, Grade 1 and Pre-K children have some new “toys” in their classroom – brand new iPads. The school has just launched an iPad program that has the Grade 1 students teaching the Pre-K students how to use the iPad.

Their first task was to demonstrate how to properly hold the iPad, to move between screens and how to gently tap the apps. From there, they showed the Pre-K children how to take a photo using the iPad. This is a tool that is easy to use and allows the younger grades the opportunity to succeed and explore technology creatively. It was exciting to see the students who were risk-takers and created different and interesting photos based on the app options!

There are also activities within the Pre K, Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes that use the iPad as a tool that can be integrated into the curriculum. As the students develop skills by using the iPad and recognizing the use of apps, the device helps them to explore learning, create products, share information and develop an awareness of the world and learning beyond the classroom.

Besides, working with the Pre-K’s offers a great opportunity for students to share skills, develop friendships and to allow the Grade 1’s to be leaders and teachers.

In exploring the iPad with Grade 1, it has been exciting to consider how this tool aids learning in the key numeracy and literacy subjects and then to further consider the additional areas of learning beyond the classroom. Educators need to keep students up to date with the technological tools available to them and how best to use them within the context of education and within the context of the digital world. But does the iPad meet these needs?

In utilizing the iPad in the Early Years it has been vital to observe, record and research how it can be most beneficial as a productive and consumable resource for students and teachers.

As a teacher I structure all of my teaching around student learning: What will the children relate to, how will they access the information being taught? How can I teach letters, numbers and concepts in a way they can understand? This means I need to be knowledgeable about the curriculum, recognize student needs, and develop a program using resources that are relevant and meaningful to my students. All of this must ensure students are engaged, that they develop skills and become life-long learners. 

So, how does the iPad fit into this?

biss-ipad-buddies-03In the Early Years the iPad, tablet device gives young children access to technology in a form that is in keeping with their developmental stage; physically, emotionally and intellectually. The iPad bridges the gap within the technological curriculum, as the keyboard is removed and young students can move from page to page as they would read a book. This provides access to content, knowledge and connections to the world beyond.

Physically, the iPad with the drag and tap technology allows young children to access the screen options without manipulating any other objects (mouse) and without searching a large number of keys for the correct key. This in itself makes the technology more accessible, and when writing on screen with their finger they can write intuitively in line with their own handwriting knowledge. The forward, backwards movement of screen pages allows students to find their way back to the screen they are looking for, more like a book. Again this is more intuitive and linked to the way young children use other resources.

Emotionally, thanks to the accessibility of technology available on the iPad, young children are able to experience success and develop a sense of confidence in their ability to use technology and they recognize it as a relevant tool in their lives. It allows a sense of success and meaningful purpose. They realize they can create a photo, write a comment, access a specific app or type a note all on their own.  It is a resource that allows for differentiation and individual and personal involvement, whether they are using it independently or in small groups.

Intellectually, young children learn best with a multitude of resources and the repetition of learning something in many different ways, which also helps them to comprehend and to develop understanding. It also allows for the many different ways children learn and recognize information.   Through judicious use and selective app choices, this technology offers another different and technological learning opportunity for children of all ages. There is no limit to the information and learning options on the iPad. The challenge lies in educators making the correct choices. For example, we choose apps that challenge a student’s understanding of a concept rather than an app that offers drill practice. We offer students the opportunity to create meaning and reflect their learning, rather than simply consume information.

Engagement is key for any significant learning to take place. The iPad program truly engages students as any good teacher can engage students in any kind of classroom learning. However, it is exciting to offer students a more vibrant and dynamic opportunity to learn.

Some people may argue that it is too early to say this will ultimately improve a student’s learning as this technology in schools is relatively new. Managing the backend of the technology is complex, assessing suitable apps and then incorporating them into curriculum and classroom use is challenging. But it seems that this technology is a beneficial resource that offers students dynamic learning experiences, is making technology accessible to young children and is directly linked to 21st century learning. As such, ensuring students have access to this resource is greatly beneficial to student learning.

The challenge as educators is to be responsible and to treat this resource with respect. Teachers must always ensure they are recognizing the educational opportunities and not getting seduced by the TOY FACTOR. It is equally important for teachers to teach children that though fun, this device is not a toy but a valuable tool for exchanging, exploring and consuming information. It offers new and different ways for producing and creating, and equally, for practicing and developing skills. Again, this is made all the more possible with young children due to the design of this technology.

There is no exchange for hands-on experiences in the Early Years, Paper, pencils and manipulatives are crucial and necessary and they should NEVER be left out of the equation. Therefore, the BISS iPad program is balancing the use of iPads and traditional pedagogy. We enable students to be educated using as many resources as possible. As the students move through the school, they enter 1:1 laptop programs. Thus, we are ensuring students have the opportunity to learn and connect beyond the classroom walls.

However, the iPad is another tool that has great flexibility and creates another learning opportunity, whilst simultaneously exposing children to technology. As an Early Years educator who greatly values play, it is exciting to see young children having the opportunity to play with technology in a more accessible manner, whilst more authentically gaining access to technology than previous options.

The iPad surely offers a different and additional way of learning and teaching. The possibilities are endless!


By Lara Ronalds and Jenny Sysko

Beijing BISS International School

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