Since receiving my class set of iPods on loan through the pilot project organised by Sligo Education Centre and Apple Ireland, I’ve had a chance to think about and observe in a short space of time how they have had an effect on the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom. Anytime instant access to any type of technology, but perhaps especially hand-held technology, changes the classroom dynamic and has an immediate effect on the type of learning that takes place and also, perhaps more importantly, on the way that learning takes place.
The immediate effect that could be observed after beginning to use the iPods in the classroom was the eagerness of the children to learn. That is not to say that they were previously unmotivated, in fact they were quite bright. Nevertheless, from the moment the pupils entered the class in the morning, they were eager to get their hands on the iPods to use as a learning tool. Having this hand-held technology just heightened their willingness to try something new and different in order to learn. The pupils simply loved working with the iPods. They frequently thought that they were “playing” on the iPods (“Teacher, can we play with the iPods today?”, was a common question) but didn’t realise that even though they may have been playing a game, they were learning a skill at the same time. So whether it was an educational app or just a game, the pupils were learning a skill that is transferable to other areas of the curriculum and to life itself. Although we have only had the iPods for about six weeks, they have been the success of the year as far as the pupils are concerned. This Wordle shows the impact the iPods have had on the children this year: Review_of_the_Year
Through the use of the iPods in the classroom, the children have experienced new ways of learning – it’s not that they have learned anything that they made not have otherwise have learned, it’s just that they were learning in a different, more engaging way. They are growing up in a technological age, where they are surrounded by any amount of technology devices, so they were totally unfazed by the introduction of the iPods into the classroom. It got to the stage where they were making new discoveries with the iPods and they were teaching me how to do things! Discovery learning is one of the principles underpinning the curriculum and the children were constantly making new discoveries of ways of working with the iPod. This resulted in a three-way process of learning – teacher learning from children, children learning from teacher, and, more importantly, children learning from each other, the most effective type of learning. If the pupils can discover something by themselves or from their peers, they will remember it for much longer than if the teacher “teaches” it to them. I recently came across (via Twitter @seomraranga) two very pertinent and timely quotations to do with technology and education. The first said: “Any teacher that can be replaced by technology, deserves to be!” The second said: “Technology doesn’t improve education, it changes it. TEACHERS improve education”. In relation to iPods in the classroom, these quotations indeed are very apt.
There have been challenges during the past six weeks while we have been attempting to integrate this new technology into the primary school classroom. The obvious challenge for the teacher is to use the technology as a tool to teach what he/she would have been teaching anyway. So although the same learning outcomes will be expected, the route towards those outcomes will be different. This will be a challenge for me in the next academic year. Because we have only had the iPods for about six weeks, the objective at this stage of the year really was to make the children comfortable with using them. In the next school year, my job will be to match a little better the use of the technology to the curriculum that I will be teaching. That challenge will be to select appropriate apps to teach a particular topic or to guide the pupils to web resources on that topic. Another challenge which became evident is a structural one – our broadband in the school has been a source of contention for a good while. While it has improved, it can be unreliable at times and can tend to be slow. We have changed broadband supplier, but will probably still have to upgrade the line to get faster speeds, so this will hopefully improve our internet experience using the iPods.
Another consideration when using iPods is to realise that Apple products do not support any Flash-based or similar applications on web sites. This is unfortunate because most sites aimed at primary school aged children makes great use of animation to teach something. This is frustrating, but it just means that the teacher has to have visited sites beforehand to make sure they can be accessed by the pupils on the iPod Touches.
Some people have been amazed when I tell them that my pupils have been using iPod Touches for learning in the classroom. They thought that they were too young to be able to manage this technology. But we have to realise that these children are growing up in a technological age where they are surrounded by emerging technologies and that some of their toys, coupled with their leisure time, are technology-based. They’ve got PSP’s, mobile phones, MP3 players, game consoles etc. Children are not frightened to engage with new technology and rarely need a user’s manual to find out how to use it. They just dive straight in. When we visited Burnt Oak Junior School in London who have been using this technology for the past year, we enquired from them about what age pupils should be to use iPods in the classroom. At present, they are using them with their Year 4’s (about age8/9). They told us that they also tried the iPods with their Year 6’s and found that the younger children learned much quicker than the older ones. My pupils are aged 6-8 and I was really interested to see how they would manage. I shouldn’t have worried as they took to the technology like the proverbial ducks to water. It was also interesting to note that I had some Junior infants in my room during the last week in June when their teacher was absent for the day. They are 4/5 years old. I gave them iPods, asked my pupils to show them how to work them and within minutes, they were also working away quietly – busy, engaged and learning !
I believe that the pupils have been learning new skills through their use of the iPod Touches in the classroom. They are learning physical skills like hand-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity. Through using certain apps they are honing their thinking skills which sharpen the mind. They become fully engaged while using the iPods and they are learning in a fun and interesting way. Using the iPods also fosters independent learning in the pupils. Frequently the pupils will ask me how to do something on the iPod. It serves a purpose to tell them that you do not know, to have a go or to ask another pupil in the classroom. It’s been amazing to see how much they can learn from each other and how much they can teach me! There is a saying that goes: “If they cannot learn the way we teach, then we must teach the way they learn”.
I’ll very soon give some examples of the type of work we have been doing during the last term using the iPod Touches. I’ll mention the apps that we’ve used and shown how they have been useful as a teaching strategy. I’ll also mention some of the plans for using the iPods during the next school year.