First Day of Kindergarten this fall: Crayons, Pencils ... iPads?
This coming fall all the 5-year-olds in its 14 kindergarten classes will have access to iPads for reading and math instruction.
After a pilot project in one kindergarten class at Belmont Hills Elementary School last semester, George Frazier, director of information systems, and Jenn Goldberg, education technology specialist, were encouraged enough to recommend that the district expand the program.
“What struck me when watching the students with the iPads is the degree of engagement,” Frazier says. “They are enthusiastic about the iPads and the apps.
“For instance, when there are a few minutes left in a class, often you see students sitting and watching the clock. With the iPads, we don’t see that. They want to use the apps. They are caught up in playing a game, but it is a game that is based on improvement in math or reading skills.”
Although some people might think that 5 years old is too young to get much use out of a tablet, both parents and the school board were enthusiastic about the idea, Frazier says.
“They and we can see it as valuable as we move toward developing 21st century skills. It ushers in possibilities for things like electronic textbooks and for skills these students will need in a global economy.”
TabTimes reported in February on a school district in Auburn, Maine, that tested iPads with kindergarten students over a nine-week period. A total of 266 students were given a literacy test before this period. During the trial, 129 students were taught to read and write using an iPad, while the remaining 137 were taught the 'old fashioned' way, using pen and paper.
The school district found that, in every single literacy test, students using the iPad outperformed those who did not use the tablet, and by a significant margin.
The Lower Merion School District is spending about $120,000 on the tablet program and will have about 400 iPads in use next year. Frazier notes that this is not an increased expenditure, because funds from the district-wide technology program were carved out for the iPads.
A recent Wall Street Journal article cited a survey by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, which found that 39% of children ages 2 to 4 years old and 52% of children ages 5 to 8 have used an iPad, iPhone or similar touch-screen device to play games, watch videos or use other apps.
Frazier says it is obvious that some of the students have used iPads at home, but the intuitive nature of the interface makes for easy entry, even for 5-year-olds, whether they have already used one or not.
iPad wins the tablet bake-off
The Lower Merion tablet project began in December 2010 with the formation of a mobile computing evaluation committee to consider the iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Cisco Cius and RIM Playbook. They tested the 7-inch Galaxy and the iPad for six weeks, and opted for the iPad. In 2011 pilot projects were conducted in several elementary grades with a focus on math remediation.
District teachers and instructional technologists found the apps worked best with students in lower grades. “There were more apps available that lend themselves to that age child,” Frazier notes. “I am sure that in the future there will be more apps targeting older children.”
Frazier says that Goldberg identified apps that have promise and is working with the kindergarten teachers on how they might help deliver instruction better or even teach things they weren’t able to teach before.
“They are putting a lot of thought into the ways the apps are designed,” he adds. “Does it save a child’s progress? Many are designed like games. What do the rewards look like?”
iPad management issues, improved engagement
Supporting so many iPads presents some new challenges to the district’s IT staff, Frazier says. For instance, with laptops they have client management tools that allow them to deploy software upgrades to hundreds of devices simultaneously.
With iPads they have to download the apps one at a time on each device. “This platform is still in its infancy, and in some ways it is hard to manage,” he says. “I am sure there will be tools to make managing them as efficiently as laptops and desktops.”
In the first full year of the program, the district will primarily focus on improved engagement, Frazier says, “but as our sophistication in collecting data grows, we will also start measuring their impact on learning.
(Main photo image courtesy of Eric Campbell, BalaCynwyd.Patch.com)