Wednesday, November 30, 2016

iPads at Lower School - Our Goals and Guidelines

I was pleased to be able to hold two “Parenting in the Digital Age” sessions at our Lower School recently. Among many topics, we discussed the issue of screen time, including a concern about how often our children are given a phone or iPad as a pacifier during times when they might get restless or bored. Of course, this lead to a discussion of our 1-to-1 iPad program and whether the presence of iPads is adding to these concerns. In response to this, I want to share our philosophy at Lower School about integrating iPads into our curriculum.

The Beginning
Our story began with a grant awarded in 2011 by the School that gave us the opportunity to purchase 12 iPad2’s for students to share, and iPads for teachers in Kindergarten. We set up a clear set of goals and parameters for our summer exploration and for our test run in the 2011-12 school year:

To explore the educational value of iPads as tools for young learners and their teachers


  1. The best learning occurs with a teacher nearby to observe, guide, and respond. Therefore iPads will be used in small groups, guided by a teacher.
  2. Apps will be selected according to our goals, vision, and mission of the School. We seek apps that provide open-ended, creative opportunities, or offer ways to interact with concepts that would be difficult to experience without technology. As a Quaker school we rarely use rewards systems to motivate our students, so we avoid apps that provide only rote practice and are overtly congratulatory.
  3. Learning with technology should include a creative element that is unique to the medium. iPads have not replaced crayons, paint, pencils, or glue. They offer a different set of creative opportunities, such as voice-over recordings, homemade movies, stop-motion animation, coding, and music recordings. The camera on the iPad offers multiple options for sharing student work, adding narration to drawings, or creating collages. 
  4. Many skills and concepts taught in elementary classrooms require repetition and practice. It is effective to vary the experiences of practice to encourage students to persevere and to think about things in a different way. When we find apps that support accurate practice in an engaging way, we include them as part of the program.

With these guidelines in mind, we blogged about our process as a means of reflecting and sharing our practice. These posts can be found on the iPad and Learning Adventures at Lower School blog. While the blog is not currently active, it contains the history and thinking that we went through and it is still used as a resource to bring new teachers to an understanding of our process.

iPads at Lower School Today
After several years of thoughtful, reflective process, we have attained 1-to-1 iPads from K-4th grade. The expectations and guidelines remain the same. Each year teachers and students extend their creative thinking to find new and interesting ways to use iPads as a classroom tool. If you visit our classrooms on any day, you may find students in the hallways or on the playgrounds photographing geometric shapes in the real world to bring back for a math lesson, or tracking a favorite tree as it changes through the seasons. There will be students creating books about a research topic or a stop motion animation about the life of a famous person. Younger students will narrate stories based on their drawings, listen to their narration, edit it to make it better, and re-record it. They will explain their thinking behind a block design or math pattern they developed, and they might in the process discover an error and ask to correct it and re-record their narration. There are so many ways we have learned to incorporate the creative possibilities of iPads into our daily learning; the goal remains to use them as a tool that provides opportunities that are unique to the format and flexibility that the iPad offers. 

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