Sunday, June 13, 2010

First thoughts about using the iPad with my students

OK, so I've only had the iPad for 3 days but here are my first impressions:

On Thursday night I was very excited. I rushed home, unpacked the box and switched it on. I loved the size, I loved the touch screen and everything was working fine. I hooked it up to my wireless network at home and went to the App Store to download some apps for trying out with the students on Friday. My first thoughts based on the visit to the App Store were that it was not very easy to search for apps that would be good for different age groups in primary. I went to Education and found 880 apps which I then sorted into most popular, but these were not sorted into either subject or age range, though when I searched for Kindergarten I did get to 6 apps designed for this age group and when I searched for Elementary I got to 3 apps (all maths). I installed several of these apps to try out with the students.

I then went to Reference and again searched using most popular. Some of these apps would be very useful for me (for example the Swiss Phone Book) but not very useful for me to use in class with my students. I found a translator and dictionary that looked good and went ahead and installed those. I went to the Books category and installed iBooks and Kindle. Then I went ahead and got a book to try to see if I would like reading on the iPad as much as reading a "real" book.

What I have learnt from this: I need to have some suggestions of apps that are good to use with primary students. Searching around and trying out different apps is very time consuming.

On Friday I took the iPad into school. I was teaching two classes of Grade 2s in the morning and when the students had finished what they had to do on the computers, I asked them to try out the iPad and some of the apps I had installed. The most popular one I noticed was RushHour. I deliberately didn't give any instructions on how to use the iPad to the students, I just wanted to observe what they were doing. Generally I found they worked well together, shared and took turns. If one of them didn't know what to do, the others helped and made suggestions. Every single student was successful using the touch screen.

On Friday afternoon I had MYP Technology with Grade 7 students all afternoon. As soon as the students walked into the room they saw the iPad and asked if they could use it. Since some of the students had been away on the past couple of Fridays doing sports activities, they had missed the investigation and designing of kites. I therefore asked these students to go and sit on the couch with the iPad and to search YouTube for some movies on kite making that would help them decide what they wanted to make. They tried out various positions such as holding the iPad in their hands, putting it on their laps and so on but the favourite position seemed to be reclining with their knees up and the iPad propped up against them. Other students wanted to use it too. I asked them to search for some useful apps in the App Store. They came up with an app about the planets, a graphing app, one that showed historical maps, and a graphic calculator, all of which they installed on the iPad.

After school I went to the library to have a chat with our librarian. On the way there I met a teacher who noticed I was carrying the iPad who asked if she could "touch" it. I handed it to her and asked her to try it out. Earlier this year, one of the other IT teachers had shown her an app for the iPod Touch where students could practice telling the time. Her reaction to that had been that she thought the screen on the iPod was too small - however she was very happy with the size of the iPad and definitely wanted to try it out. She asked about typing and having it in a comfortable position for both her hands and eyes. She asked about balancing it on her knee of having it flat on a desk while working. However as we were in the library she sat down on a bench and put up one knee and used it that way. "Wow!" she said, "It sticks to my trousers!" Another happy customer!!

On Friday evening I went to visit a Kindergarten teacher. We spent some time looking for more apps for her students and I am going to give her the iPad to use with her class on Monday. I'm interested to see how the students get on with the apps we have installed.

For myself I have found that using the iPad to read a book or to surf the internet is relatively easy if I'm sitting down with one leg crossed over the other. It doesn't work trying to sit upright with it balanced on my knee. I find I'm reading a lot in landscape view, but when I read a book I turn the iPad round into portrait - though perhaps this is because that's the way I'm used to reading the internet on my computer and how I'm used to reading a book page by page. I like the touch screen and I like the way you can pinch to make things larger. Typing is more challenging for me, however (hence I am writing this blog post on my MacBook Pro). It feels very odd trying to type - perhaps because I am still trying to use all my fingers. When I am just using my index fingers it feels better (but of course it's much slower!) I'm still trying to find a good position to type in. Putting the iPad onto a table and trying to type definitely doesn't work!

So, does anyone have any advice for me, any apps that work well with primary and middle schoolers? If so please leave a comment. Thanks!

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