I purchased my iPod Touch about 18 months ago and I really believe that it has to be the best gadget that I have ever purchased. I purchased it without really knowing the extent of its capabilities. I only bought it because my previous MP3 player had packed in and I just wanted a replacement to store my music to accompany me on my walks. I no sooner had the gadget than I realised that there was a lot more in this small package than I at first realised. The iPod Touch could play music, surf the internet, receive emails, play videos on YouTube, download music and podcasts, and best of all I discovered the App Store – a gigantic online supermarket where you could download games and applications to use on the iPod. 18 months down the line I’m still discovering things that I can use the iPod for.
I’ve also been using Twitter for almost two years and it’s a fascinating place to discover and keep up to date with all of the latest trends in technology and especially the use of technology in the classroom. It was through Simon Lewis (@simonmlewis) on Twitter that I became aware of a video on YouTube that showed how a school in England were using iPod Touches in the classroom as a tool to enhance different areas of the curriculum. I was blown away by this video as the pupils featured in the video were 8-year olds and appeared to be so proficient in their use of the iPod in the classroom situation. I was so taken by what I had seen that I embedded the video here on the Seomra Ranga blog last October. (view the post HERE) I finished my short post with the remark, “Could this ever happen in Ireland?” in the firm belief that we were so far away from seeing this sort of technology in an Irish classroom, especially given the lack of investment in IT infrastructure in schools. Little did I expect that I would have to eat my words so soon.
In February I had a conversation with Mary Hough, the Director of Sligo Education Centre and she began to relate to me a story about a conference she had attended in London, part of which entailed a visit to a school using technology in the classroom in an interesting way. Through the course of the conversation, I realised that the school she had visited was the exact same school that had featured in that YouTube video showing the pupils using iPods in the classroom. I was amazed at the coincidence and Mary was equally blown away by what such young children were capable of doing with this piece of modern technology. On her return from London Mary informed me that she made some enquiries to see if such work was being carried out in any Irish classrooms and could not find any. To cut a long story short, Sligo Education Centre, along with the Education Centres in Kilkenny and Wexford, decided to become involved in a pilot project with Apple Ireland to see how the iPod Touch would integrate into the Irish classroom. Mary invited my school to become involved in the pilot project and I was delighted get the opportunity to test the iPods in an Irish context.
In March, a number of teachers and principals from the schools involved in the pilot project travelled to London to visit Burnt Oak Junior School, the school featured in that YouTube video to see the iPods in action at first hand. The school, including the principal, Mrs. Carol Richardson, and teacher Mr. Peter Barrett, were very accommodating and hospitable, and were delighted that their video on the internet had struck a chord with other teachers. The classroom teachers involved set up situations for the pupils to work on their iPods in different curricular areas in order to demonstrate to us how they use them in the classroom.
The pupils in Burnt Oak Junior School had only been using the iPods since September 2009 and within a short space of time had become so proficient in their use that they were unfazed by strangers from Ireland asking them lots of questions as to how they used the iPods during the school day. They demonstrated to us how they used this technology in their learning for English language, music, geography, science, oral language, maths as well as using the iPod for using the internet for research purposes. The experience of the school visit was truly inspiring.
So, it’s been a long time since that visit to Burnt Oak in London, but finally the pilot project in Ireland is up and running. The iPods have already been installed in the schools in Kilkenny and Wexford and at last they arrived in my 1st/2nd classroom in Sligo today. The pupils have been so excited waiting on the arrival of these gadgets. Although the iPod Touch is quite new in a school context, quite a few of the pupils already had seen or had access to an iTouch or iPhone, so to many it was not all that new. The pupils were very patient as they waited for the iTouches to be installed and set up – it was like dangling sweets in front of them and telling them that they couldn’t have them for another while! However, the wait was worth it and the pupils loved their first experience of having the new technology in their hands. Initially, because there were no Apps pre-installed on the iTouches, we experimented with the calculator and the world clock. Very soon we were on the internet, visiting the school website, listening to some of the podcasts we had done and visiting some of the websites we had previously visited. Once some apps had been loaded the pupils started to explore these.
It was really interesting to watch the whole process with the children evolve. Within the first 45 minutes, I was bombarded with questions that frequently started with, “I’m stuck ….”; “This won’t open ….”; “How do you …..” etc. However, after that the noise level seemed to decrease and there was a general hum of children at work. Children were sitting in their places, huddled in groups or in pairs, yet all were engaged in what they were doing. They were experimenting, searching, teaching each other, questioning. Given that the children in my class ranged from six to eight years of age, it was amazing to see them take to this new technology so readily and without too many inhibitions. This point was made to us by the teachers in Burnt Oak – they found that the younger children were far more receptive to using the iTouch technology in the classroom.
The initial six apps (all available from the Apps Store) that were added to the iTouches to get us started were:
Perfect Balance Harmony
Rory’s Story Cubes
It remains to be seen how this pilot project will work out. We’re really excited about it and quite hopeful that it will be a success and that it will prove to be beneficial and a great addition to the learning experience of the children. I’ll try to write some more about how the project is going in the future and hopefully it will be the start of mobile technology taking up a central place in the primary classroom in Ireland.