If you walk into your children’s school, don’t be surprised if you see them holding an iPad in their hands. No, the school has not entered the Star Trek era. They are just embracing the latest trend in education technology – the iPad learning classroom.
Yes, iPads are seeing an integration into modern educational systems, with thousands added every school year. iPads and similar tablets have led to some controversy. Critics point to the fact that computers, back in the day, were over-hyped and under-utilized in the nation’s schools. Rather than revolutionizing education, they took up space and time, while providing minimal value. Will the iPad suffer the same fate? Or will it be the piece of technology that brings education into a new age?
The logical conclusion when seeing children on iPads in school is to assume that they are either using learning apps or playing games. While this might be the case, the devices are much more than just a slenderized computer or touch-screen gaming system. Zurich International School is an English-speaking private school in Zurich, Switzerland. They are showing exactly how much children and their teachers can do with an iPad. The iPad’s video recorder and camera allow students to record their impressions in digital format.
In ZIS, as the school is known, each of the students in grades 1 through 8 is given an iPad. Teachers use these to help tangibly assess student learning. Lisa Guernsey, the author of Screen Time, visited the school as part of her research. While there, she observed first graders using the video system to record themselves explaining what a “system” was. Using a drawing app, they drew a picture of a system, then recorded themselves explaining why it was a good example of one. Tablets allow oral exploration of a topic that first graders would not be able to write about due to limited writing abilities.
It’s no secret that the traditional classroom model does not affect all learning types. Kinesthetic learners, those who learn best by moving their bodies, are stifled by sitting in a lecture hall or classroom taking notes. The motion sensor built into an iPad can help them move their bodies as they learn, as Edutopia indicates.
The iPad can also help those learners who want to know why they need to learn something. For example, that old word problem about two trains traveling in opposite directions does not seem applicable at first glance. It clears things up once students can use a real map to work out those distances or see how the distances directly relate to where they live.
The iPad also helps students connect with students in other locations. Yes, this can is possible with computers, but when you place a device directly into a child’s palm, it makes it much more personal. Students can work in groups both in and outside their classrooms. Students can collaborate across the globe to share their findings and have cross-cultural conversations about a project.
There are concerns about implementing iPads in the classroom. One such concern is that many kids use devices all day, every day. Many fear that using tablets in the classroom will make students increasingly dependent on technology. Educators using iPad classroom learning share this concern. That’s why they aren’t using iPads for everything. One principal at Robinson Elementary School in Kirkwood, Missouri requires her students to write a letter indicating how they will use an iPad appropriately before giving them one.
The iPad can be a distraction. Teachers are already battling students who are texting and accessing Facebook on their smartphones while in class. When you hand the entire class an iPad, the distraction is going to increase significantly. Teachers and schools that implement the iPad are going to have to figure out some boundaries to prevent that from happening. Most will only install software that prevents students from accessing unauthorized websites or installing games.
For some tasks, using the iPad is more challenging. It’s hard to type on an iPad, so writing a report is easier done by computer or hand. The same may be true for taking notes. Not all students learn well by filling in online forms. Some need to physically write things down in order remember them well. In fact, there are debates about specific types of learning, and writing notes is one of them. To see more information on learning types, check out this excellent infographic.
Still, the iPad provides a level of enrichment to some classes and activities. Students can watch videos demonstrating physics principals that would not be safe to perform in class, or they can use the iPad to practice basic facts and even spelling words independently while the teacher works in small groups. The iPad is not going to replace educators, nor is it going to turn the classroom into something out of a Star Trek movie. It is, however, going to make classes more interactive and, in many ways, make teacher’s jobs easier. Who knows, maybe this is the piece of technology that will finally make the classroom accessible to learners of all types.