Recently, I was given the opportunity to go one-to-one in my first grade classroom with iPads. To say that my students and I were excited to do this would be a bit of an understatement. It has long been a dream of mine to go one-to-one and for the students it is, as they say, like kids in a candy shop.

With Great Tools Comes Great Responsibility

Creating Stories on the iPadWhen I announced on Twitter that I had picked up my boxes of technology, a comment from Stephen Ransom gave me great pause. He said, “With great tools comes great responsibility. Can’t wait to hear about the learning that goes on.”

Wow. Great responsibility. He is so right. Not everyone has a chance to do this, and I do feel that responsibility. I feel responsible to make sure that these devices make a difference in my classroom. I feel responsible to ensure that they help us to engage in learning that is impossible without them. I feel responsible to ensure that they help us to connect and collaborate with other classes. I feel responsible to ensure that they in fact transform the learning in my classroom in some way.

If they become a babysitting tool, then I have failed. If the apps we use are just technological worksheets, then I have failed. If it’s an “app of the week” scenario, then I have failed. I am not a person who is content with failure, whether my own or on the part of my students.

Starting Our Journey

With that in mind, I was careful which apps I chose to put on the iPads initially. My list included books, spelling apps and math apps, but I made sure that many of the apps also allowed for creation and connection.

I thought a lot about the set up of my classroom and about how to keep the iPads from getting broken, but still allow the students to easily use them whenever and wherever they wanted to.

After a month of using our iPads, these are my initial observations regarding the transformative nature of allowing each student to have their own device.

Engagement

Taking Pictures with the iPadTruthfully, it is not really difficult to engage six-year-old students. If I said that we were going to do a phonics worksheet (we don’t actually do that in my classroom) with enough enthusiasm, the students would all cheer. Their enthusiasm would not necessarily carry over to doing it, but they would be enthusiastic to try it. Having said that, the opportunity to use a technology that is as intuitive to them as playing in the sand has captivated my students.

They eagerly allow themselves to become absorbed with any new app we use, and explore with ease the ones I have not yet introduced formally. Technology, which they already use in various forms in their life outside of the classroom, is a normal and intuitive part of their lifestyle. Like most of the rest of us, when they use technology, they are engaged!

Collaboration

Helping a friend with their iPadSince sound effects go along with many of our iPad uses, the students spend some of the time using their iPads with their headphones or earbuds on. I was worried that this would mean their sense of collaboration would be lost. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Can somebody show me how to get out of this?” “Look what I did.” “This is cool. Watch this.” “How did you do that?” “Look here so I can take a picture.” These are all common phrases in my classroom. The students are still definitely learning from and with each other. From the creation to the sharing, from the questions to the solutions, there is more collaboration and authentic problem-solving happening in my classroom than there was before we obtained our devices.

Instant Feedback

Concentrating on the iPadI am often frustrated that I do not have the opportunity to engage one-to-one with all of my students as often as I would like to during a school day. Because of this, students sometimes pursue something without understanding it. They don’t get that “just in time” feedback they need, or they waste valuable learning time waiting for me to finish with the other students so that I can connect personally with them.

Using technology can take away that frustration. If the students are using an app to practice skills such as patterning or spelling or addition, they are immediately rewarded for a correct answer and asked to try again for a wrong one. These apps are not where I want my students to spend the majority of their time, but they have a definite place in learning. I want the students to understand some concepts so well that they are confident and automatic in their responses. There are apps that help them achieve that goal.

Showing Their Learning

Showing and sharing your learning is important in my classroom, and something we have done for years. There are a lot of great iPad apps available that allow students, even if they are six and can’t yet read or write, to demonstrate what they know or even to teach others. Screencasting tools that allow even young students to draw as they talk are a natural fit, and while video-taping allowed me to help them show their learning in the past, it always reflected only the final product. Screencasts show the stages in the process as well.

The photo-taking ability of devices like an iPad permit students to share photos of their constructions, their hand-written compositions, what they see in the world around them and — really — anything they want to share.  Sharing has always happened in my classroom, but it is easier now than ever before.

Pursuing their Own Interests

Child in locker using iPadOne of the most valuable uses of the one-to-one opportunity is the chance for students to be able to pursue and learn about their own interests. This is not to say that students could not pursue this learning before we were one-to-one, but it is so much easier now.  Before we had the iPads, the students were limited to exploring books (many of which they could not yet read the words of) or any of the manipulatives we have in our classroom. We did have computers, but I did not encourage my not-yet traditional spellers to do Google searches. Reading a lot of text is out, but video—now that is another story altogether.

Video allows my students to get information in a form that is appropriate to their skill level. Thanks to a Discovery Education account and individual iPads, my beginning and emerging readers can now search for and watch videos online to pursue their own passions on their own devices. They can ‘favorite’ video they like so that they can come back to it. In short, they can now own their own learning at a level never before achievable.

Connections

Taking Pictures outside with the iPadsMy classroom regularly connects with other classrooms from across North America and around the world. Recently, I made a Google Doc with links to some videos from our most recent connections and linked it to our classroom webpage to allow the students to find and watch these video connections on their own. These connections were entirely possible before we had our new devices, but watching the video of your choice at the time of your choice was not.

We have not yet used our iPads to connect with others through Skype or Facetime, but I’m looking forward to doing that, and to allowing the students to use those tools on their own without it being a whole class connection.

Truthfully, management of these devices has proven to be more of a hassle than I had anticipated, but it is clear to me that these devices ARE making a difference. When I see the students’ engagement, their learning, their sharing and their pursuit of their passions, I can’t help but be convinced that these devices have the potential to transform my classroom.

“Mrs. Cassidy, can we use the iPads for that?”

Yes, indeed, you certainly can.

About the author
Kathy Cassidy is an award-winning first grade teacher who incorporates technology into her classroom to give her students an authentic audience and a portal to the world. She blogs at Primary Preoccupation and with her students at Ms. Cassidy's Classroom Blog. Follow her on Twitter @kathycassidy. Her first book, from Powerful Learning Press, is Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades.