For those of you who know me or follow me on social media, you will know that what I teach, read about, and share, mostly revolves around the world of early childhood education (between Pre-K and 2nd grade). I am a technology integrator now, but having spent most of my early teaching career in the early childhood classroom, I realize that I have a unique perspective on educational technology within this age group. I share as much as I can about my own journey, as well as whatever else I find on the internet. However, as I connect with more educators, I’ve noticed that I have been asked the same question more and more frequently:
“Can you share some tips/resources on how to get started with iPads in early childhood?”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered that people think I am a good source to learn from! But, the fact remains that I have never had a good answer to this question. I don’t have a magical list of apps, tools, or tips to give to a new teacher (although don’t you wish this existed?!), and I really haven’t felt like I’ve been much help when approached with this request. This prompted me to reflect on why this question was so difficult for me to answer. What defines successful iPad implementation in an early childhood setting? Or at least, what do I perceive it to be?
It didn’t come to me right away, in fact, I spent most of this school year thinking about it. I’ve come to realize that the reason why I had so much trouble answering this question was because I was approaching it as though there was some finite answer. The truth is, no one approach is going to work for everyone, the key is taking the time to figure out what works for you, your teaching style, and your setting. No doubt, this will continue to shift and evolve as you move along in your teaching career, as it has for me. However, one thing that I can leave people with, are a few ways that might help you figure out how technology can work for you.
1. Take the Necessary Time
They key word here is NECESSARY, it probably won’t happen for you if you don’t invest the time. None of us really knew how to teach reading, writing, or math on our first day in the classroom. Sure, we had read stacks of books and articles on the pedagogy behind it all, and of course we had our student teaching experiences, but really, did any of us have a clear vision of how everything worked? I think not. We all took the necessary time to explore the programs and curriculum being run at our school, we asked questions, tested out different ideas, and through these processes finally started building our own toolbox to draw from. Why then should technology integration be any different? There is no easy way into it except to take the time to explore the tool you have been given before you can unlock its potential for the classroom. I know we are all so busy as it is, what time is there to learn a new thing??? I will admit it is tough, but no one said you had to be perfect at it in your first year. Give yourself time, take it in small chunks, perhaps dedicate 15-20 minutes periodically to just “play” with your iPad or new tool. The sooner you become literate, the sooner you can begin applying it to your teaching.
Ok, so what if you already know how to use an iPad, you’ve got one of your own, you’ve been using the technology for years, but still have no idea how or why to use it in your teaching? I would recommend choosing 3-4 apps that revolve around CREATION. This means apps that are open-ended and can be used to create digital pieces such as drawings, digital books, video, audio recordings, mind maps, or those that have a combination of these features. There are a multitude of apps with these capabilities, some are more popular among educators than others, but the point is you take the time to play with a few and choose some that you like and think might work for you.
2. Understand the Skills & Literacies that Need to be Taught
Now that you have your 3-4 apps you want to bring into your teaching, I would recommend that you comb through each of them with a critical eye and take note of everything your students will need to know in order to use these apps successfully. Also look to see if there are commonalities between the apps, perhaps they all have the ability to record audio. Look at how these features are marked or represented in each app, are they similar/different?
We often introduce new technology by handing it to the students, then giving them step by step instructions (i.e. “First, tap on the plus sign…next…”). This can work, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it myself! But when we give students a book for the first time in kindergarten, we don’t give them step by step instructions on what every word is in that book, we teach them strategies to unlock the reading independently. An iPad or technological tool is no different, there are skills and strategies we need to use these tools effectively, and as teachers, we should be teaching these strategies to our students so they can independently problem solve when we introduce new apps or tools. If you aren’t sure where to begin with this, I have written a post about how I started this process with the students. Click HERE to view this post.
3. Build Routines
The reason why I recommend focusing on just 3-4 apps is so that they can be used over and over again through the school year. As students become familiar with the app itself and how you would like them to use the app within the school day, they become more independent. Some teachers have a center of iPads out regularly and students know how to manage that center because they have done it many times. For the grades that have 1:1 iPads, some teachers ask students to keep their iPads out at all times. They keep their iPad face down when not in use and routines are built around when they should be using them. For instance, some teachers use apps for students to keep a collection of strategy charts so that when it is time for Reading or Writing workshop, students have easy access to any chart they may have used during the school year, even if it is no longer up on the wall.
As a specialist teacher, I have a few simple routines and vocabulary that help students. I try to use them as often as possible, and some of the teachers have adopted some of these:
Face plant: Put your iPad face down on the table or the floor in front of you. This keeps the kids from playing with their iPad as you give them instructions.
Button-to-button: I use this mainly with the Pre K students and Kindergarten kids at the start of the year. What this means is holding the iPad with 2 hands, and placing the home button on your belly button. This ensures students are not just holding the iPad safely but have the added support from their bellies and are less likely to drop it! I use this mostly when I want them to put their iPads back into the charging dock/station, it ensures that the charging side is facing out.
Do the Swipe-away: The swipe-away refers to closing apps. Students learn that when I ask them to do this, they click on the home button twice and “swipe away” the apps. You could turn it into a dorky rhyme too if you want: “At the end of the day (click-click), do the swipe away” I’m sure many of you could come up with much better ones haha!
Hamburger & Hot dog Style: This I stole from some teachers who were getting their students to understand paper orientation in writing workshop. When you hold your iPad Hamburger style, this refers to holding it in portrait orientation (because we stack layers on top of one another in a hamburger). When you are holding it Hot dog style, this refers to holding it in landscape orientation. Of course, you could also opt to teach your students the actual vocabulary of portrait and landscape, which probably will serve them better in the long run anyway, I just though this was a fun alternative 😉
4. Choose an Evaluation/Reflection System
We all know that reflection is a key piece in education. We expect our students to reflect on their learning all the time, and we also do the same with our teaching. No doubt, the apps will change and so will the technology, so it is good to choose a tool you like that helps you evaluate and reflect upon your technology integration in the classroom. Whether it be SAMR, TPACK, or RAT, choose the one you like best and that can help you find a balance of ways to integrate meaningfully. This doesn’t have to be something formal that you document for every single lesson, but having one of these models as a guide often provides a little mental check to see where our teaching falls and if that is where we intended it to fall.
5. Share, share, share
Once you begin to find your rhythm with your tech tools, share what your doing. In the world of educational technology, when you give, you get back so much more! Find ways to connect with other educators whether it be in your school, your district, or online on social media and SHARE what you are doing. Whether they are successes or failures, there’s someone else out there who can probably relate and appreciate what you’re going through. Surround yourself with educators who can encourage you, inspire you, and support you, and I guarantee, your journey will grow richer each year.