Without a doubt, iPads are changing the early childhood classroom. Teachers love them because of how easily they bring lessons to life, involve students, and build hands-on skills. Administrators appreciate the fact that it is easy on the budget and that there are thousands of free apps. Students, of course, love them, because they are hands-on and engaging and make learning a lot more real and fun.
Clearly, the iPad is opening new doors in education. But it must be integrated thoughtfully into the curriculum to be truly effective. And not reserved solely for games or free time, or bestowed on a child as a reward. We believe if added to the classroom with caution, the iPad can dramatically enhance instruction, engagement, and learning.
Why the iPad?
The iPad is popping up in the classroom faster than any other technology. Apple is selling twice as many iPads as Mac laptops. Why is it so popular with educators? For starters, it’s teacher-and student-friendly, small, and easy-to-store. It’s also affordable. The average laptop costs nearly $1,000 while an iPad only about $500. And, iPad ownership by students is on the rise That means more and more kids have their own devices at home which shortens the classroom learning curve and gives teachers an eager and tech-savvy audience.
Why use an iPad in the classroom? We commonly hear “Because other schools are doing it” and “we had a budget for them so why not.” These are two good reasons not to use the iPad. In fact, educators need to beware of this “technology for the sake of technology” mindset.
The best reason to use the iPad? We believe you do it for the students.
Not All Apps Are Created Equal
A challenge for teachers is deciding which apps to use. There are thousands of classroom apps out there. Researching, sorting through, and evaluating them can be overwhelming for a busy teacher.
Teachers are encouraged to be picky. Many apps are for single use or have other limitations which shorten their lifespan. Others don’t teach the higher-order thinking skills. Still others are awkward to use with children during class time or don’t match a teacher’s instructional style.
Teaches must always define and think about their learning goals before choosing an app. What is it students should be able to understand and do? Write? Create presentations? Respond to questions? Create images? Record their voices? Then ask, how important is interaction and collaboration to learning? And, how must an app fit into an existing lesson plan?
Next, teachers must ask: Is the app engaging? Easy to use? Can it be used more than once and will students want to come back to it? Can it be used for more than one grade level and across the content areas? Do kids do more than sit and click—will it push them to higher-level thinking and learning? Will it ask them to create, analyze, make?
We all hate paying for apps when there are so many free ones out there. But free apps aren’t always the way to go. A paid app might be worth the investment. It is recommended teachers try the free version of the app to see if it meets their children’s needs. Then, if it does, upgrade to the paid version for more features and usability.
For a deeper look at the use of iPad apps in the classroom, along with suggestions for worthwhile early childhood apps, check out SDE’s webinar Classroom Tech Part 1: iPad® Integration, Tips, and Tricks with the Accidental Techie (Grades K–3) by author and educational technology expert Lori Elliott, Ed.D.