Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rumination on primary integration and the iPod Touch

My wife, who teaches Kindergarten, and I were having a conversation recently about technology integration at the primary level, as we are wont to do often. She has recently been asked to help the district prepare technology lessons for the primary level. And, the task was proving to be difficult, mainly because there are some misconceptions about primary technology integration.

While the district's technology leadership is very strong, they don't have experience teaching at the primary level. So what would be fruitful for other grade levels--making example lessons that integrate technology while accessing the curriculum--doesn't work here.


We looked at our options. Kidspiration is the most promising program, as it allows teachers to prepare graphical organizers. You could have students sort objects that start with "B" into one circle and objects that start with "T' into another. Or you can put the four pictures of a sequential story in order. Or you could record your voice with the object, giving students working on speech or phonological awareness a chance to practice.

There are just too many logistical problems with using this, however. For one, Kindergartners will have trouble opening up the file. You'd have to train the students to 1) open the program, 2) go click on the open button, 3) navigate to the title (which pre-literate students wouldn't be able to read), 4) highlight it, and then 5) click the open button... all for what could be a 5 minute activity.

Then, when students finish the activity at different times, there is no good way to transition them on to the next Kidspiration activity. You will need teacher guidance to repeat the above procedure, which will be impossible with some students finishing the first activity in 3 minutes and others finishing in 25.

Plus, there is the never-mentioned issue of attention. We think computers are inexhaustiably attention-holding, but the truth is that many Kindergartners will lose attention with computer activities that don't vary for over 15 minutes.

And of course, there is the issue of teacher burn-out. I don't particularly care how great Kidspiration is as a program, if you as a teacher need to devise 5-10 activities each time your class goes to the computer lab, you're going to be tired of it as well.

The flip side of this is to let student curiosity run, having them create their own materials with programs. This works very well with Kidspiration, and even better with drawing programs like Kidpix. Problem is, this isn't what the district wanted. It allows students to build the 21st century skills (like creativity and problem-solving), but you give up the focus on specific curricular objectives (like the sorting of "T" words and "B" words from above).

Or the flip side is to purchase stock programs that have a curricular bend to them, such as Reader Rabbit. But again, you lose control over specific curricular objectives that you are trying to meet. And neither of these two options allow for quality assessment to take place.


It was at this time in the car trip that we noticed our kids, 8, 7, and 3, weren't bickering, despite all indicators suggesting it was to be a long car ride before we started (never in my life before kids did I ever think where you sat in the car could be such a big deal).

The answer, especially for our 3-year-old, was the iPod Touch. I know I will be casted as a lazy parent to say my 3-year-old gets to use the "iTouch" for an hour and a half in the car, but the device is a lifesaver. Case in point, we would never have been able to have our conversation about primary integration beforehand.

Here is the remarkable thing about the iTouch. It is graphically as rich as anything you would find on a computer, and rich in terms of audio capabilities. There is a versatile set of apps (many, many are free) that challenge her in all types of ways. It is ultra-portable and very functional, even without an internet connection. And best of all, it can be run without typing or literacy limitations. My three-year-old can access any program that she likes and doesn't have to type anything to get there or run the programs.


It was my wife who thought out loud, "You know what we should do, we should buy a lab of iTouch's for the Kindergarten." Rather than force them to use a computer for the sake of computering, give them technology that works for them. iPod Touch's are a fraction of the cost of regular computers (especially Macs), and because of their portability, can easily be shared (and don't take up a lab).

I've been skeptical of cell phone and iPod use in the classroom, despite adopting iPod use in the classroom 4 years ago as a teacher. While I've seen that they have had their place, they easily become more about the gadget than the actual curricular objective.

But for Kindergarten & 1st grade, this is entirely different. A computer is more about the gadget than learning in K-1, not the iTouch. But moreover, technology integration shouldn't be about the curricular objective at these grade levels... a stark contrast to the rest of the grades. This time is a time of rapid neural development and inquisitive growth, and to force-fit students into a task that exercises one concept actually slows them down. The iTouch can surround the student with many different learning opportunities.

If I were a superintendent or elementary principal, I would invest my technology dollars into labs of iPod Touch's for primary students and examine software that would be best for the development of their minds.

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