Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic:
Arthur C Clarke
Earlier this year Kew Primary introduced an innovative new program called iPads@Kew. All students in grades 3 to 6 were encouraged to buy or lease their own iPad for use in the classroom. The program had been trialled in other schools and Kew’s ICT Team was keen to introduce it, especially as our existing computers and laptops had all seen better days.
Back in March, the ICT Team organised an information night where parents had the opportunity to find out more about how the program worked and to ask a broad range of questions. Concerns were raised about safety and security – both practical and cyber – and there was some concern that the kids would end up spending a lot of time playing games and surfing the net. Lots of parents were unsure what the kids would actually be doing with the iPads, and some (me included) worried about the time lost reading books or writing by hand. There was also concern about the significant cost of the devices and whether all families would be able to meet that cost.
So eight months down the track I thought I would check-in with two members of the ICT Team, Chrystal Sumpton (Grade 6) and Andrew Wood (Grade 4) and find out how the program is going.
Chrystal: The implementation went far better than I expected. I was really impressed with how the staff and students embraced the program. To be honest, I was actually quite shocked at how seamless the whole process was. Before the implementation – at the information night – we had so many questions from parents and in hindsight I think that was really good. It was challenging at the time, but it really made us aware of all the potential problems and the concerns that parents had. In the long-term I think it made the whole implementation much better.
Andrew: We really listened to the parents’ concerns and it forced us to clearly articulate why the iPads were not just a novelty, a fun device for playing games and browsing the internet, but an effective tool for teaching and learning. I thought we’d have lots of issues with security and all sorts of teething problems, but we didn’t. Not at all. I was surprised at how well the implementation went as well.
Chrystal: I think the whole program has been a mind-shift for everyone – teachers and parents. It’s the programs and apps that you can use with the device that make it such a rich learning experience for the students and such a powerful teaching tool. I think many parents hadn’t been exposed to those programs; it’s not just a device for playing games and web-browsing.
Jacqui: So tell me a little about what the kids actually do with their iPads.
Andrew: They use them to do research; so this term we’ve been doing a lot of work on science and the students have used them to find out about the solar system and planets and black holes, for example; one student found an app about elements that demonstrated what happens when different elements come together. Other students looked at the Periodic Table, molecules and gravity and a whole range of other science based topics.
We’ve also been working on how they use the search engines, so using key words and effective questioning, rather than typing in a whole sentence. We’ve talked about how you can assess which sites will be the most useful, and we’ve also looked at referencing and acknowledging sources.
Chrystal: Another key use of the device is for organising and presenting their work. There are so many great ways to do this: Keynote, Simple Mind, Creative Book Builder, even iMovie. The students can chose a way to present their work that matches their own particular learning style. It gives them a great sense of ownership and is very powerful.
One of the things we’re looking at for the future is developing digital portfolios. Clio did a professional development course and shared what she had learnt with other staff at a Tekkie Brekkie. I think it would be great for the students and it would be an excellent way for them to showcase to their parents what they’ve learnt during the year.
Andrew: We’ve also been using Edmodo and Dropbox and the kids are learning about social media and networking, and working collaboratively. Because we monitor everything very strictly, it’s very safe and they’re learning about how to use social media in a responsible way. They use it to chat with each other, ask questions about their work and the teachers can post messages as well.
Chrystal: I think iPads are great for encouraging creativity generally, whether it’s writing a script for an iMovie, or writing a song for Garage Band. I’ve seen how much confidence it gives them. Even when they are just doing research – it’s all about their own exploration and discovery. They come up to me with their iPad and say: ‘Hey look at this! I found it. It’s really cool.’
Jacqui: I know parents were worried that the kids would be sneaking their iPads under the table and playing games, or looking at things they shouldn’t on the internet. How do you manage that?
Andrew: We monitor what they’re doing very closely and yes, some students will sometimes flip to a game, but we are onto that pretty quickly. They know there are consequences if they are caught – time away from their iPad, for example, a call home or a written record depending on the circumstances. We keep a close eye on their settings and we have regular spot checks where we just look at a student’s iPad and see what they’ve been doing on it what and what they’ve downloaded.
Chrystal: We had an issue with some students sending each other iMessages during silent reading and we got onto that straight away. We spoke to the students involved and to their parents; we reminded them of the ground rules and the consequences if they did it again. Apart from that, some students try to work on their projects in silent reading time, and we’ve had some trying to use their iPads at snack time. Mostly, we’ve been really pleased and impressed with how they’ve used them.
Jacqui: I’m curious about how much time they spend working with their iPads. Do they use them every day, and for what percentage of the day?
Jacqui: One of the other concerns parents had was that some families would simply not be able to afford to buy an iPad and it would set up an ‘us and them’ situation. How has that all worked out?
Andrew: I understand that, but I don’t think that’s been a problem; there’s really no sense of social division. At the start of the program I’d say about two-thirds of each class bought iPads. Some parents waited and then bought them which was fine. Now, I’d say there are only 2 or 3 students in each class who don’t have one. We have a bank of laptops, and a stack of iPods with all the same programs and apps, and each teacher has their own iPad a student can use if needs be.
Jacqui: So what is the plan for next year?
Andrew: We’ll continue to run the program for Years 3-6 and we’re talking to teachers in the lower grades to find out what they think. The general sense is that Preppies are just too young – they have enough going on – and probably Grade 1s, too. We’re still thinking about Grade 2s.
Chrystal: And we have some big-picture, long term goals. We’d love to set up a recording studio, and have a radio station with technical equipment, mikes and green screens.
Andrew: For next year, we want to work on refining how the iPads can be used as an effective teaching tool, and how they can improve learning outcomes for our students. These six months have been an exploration and we’re in a good position now to build on what we’ve learnt.
Jacqui: The Tekkie Brekkie I came along to was really informative. Have you run a few of those?
Andrew: Yes, they’ve been really good. We’ve run about 10 or 12 so far with about a dozen staff at each. We’ve covered: Dropbox, Creative Book Builder, Evernote, Keynote and Pages; we’ve looked at the Settings page in some detail, and talked about software updates and how to personalise your iPad.
Jacqui: And if parents still have questions or concerns?
Andrew and Chrystal: Talk to us anytime, or anyone from the ICT Team – Chelsea Carmichael, Sally Downer, Clio Williams, Tahnee Planner and Melissa Hayes – or to their child’s class teacher.
Jacqui: Thanks for your lunch time, guys, and for all your efforts with the program.
In iPads@Kew (Part 2) I’ll be talking to some students from Grades 3-6 about their experiences of using the iPads.
Earlier this year I wrote an article about the implementation of the program and the use of tablets in primary schools more generally for the parenting magazine, Melbourne’s Child. You can read the article here: