Incorporating iPads in the library (and the school) is perhaps the biggest trend in education today. The idea seems so simple- get iPads, find apps, and let students swipe away into the 21st century. However, as we all know, nothing is ever that simple. I intended to write this article about all of the apps I am using and how I am using them, but I quickly realized that there was so much to be done before even turning on the tablets for the first time. Using iPads in the classroom or library takes planning ( A LOT of planning), but with suitable preparation, resulting lessons can be something students will never forget.
The first steps in using the iPads is to look at the logistics. Of course schools will need to purchase the devices. Will this be done through fundraising? Maybe a grant or foundation? iPads are expensive and it still baffles me that Apple doesn’t offer any kind of education discount. I have found the iPad mini is a great option to lowering costs. Next, how many are needed? Will a class set be sufficient and if so, where will they be stored? Remember that a charging cart alone can be over a thousand dollars. Once the devices are purchased, will a sign out sheet be utilized for all teachers to use them as needed or are they only being used in Library or Tech? Also, does each student have a school e-mail account? Some apps require a log in and activation. If there are no student e-mails, parents will need to provide an e-mail address that can used for these types of apps. One last item to check off the preparation list would be deciding if the iPads will use only free apps or are paid apps an option? If so, who will pay for them? Answering these question ahead of time will make the process of starting to use iPads much easier.
My school does a combination of things to get the devices into the hands of students. We are a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for grades 6-8 and I cannot sing the praises of this enough. When students enter the room there is no time lost having them pulling from the cart or putting them back when finished. The devices have become personal notebooks for them using applications such as Pages, Evernote, and Dropbox. Additionally, our library has e–books available that students can download right onto their tablet. Also, having their own device allows them to use a fun app like Kid’s Journal which is a simple diary (a very popular storytelling method these days) that is locally stored on the device. So how do the apps get onto the iPad in the first place? On the first day of school, one young gentleman raised his hand and said, “My parents said I can’t download apps in school.” Lucky for him, that is our policy as well. Students are responsible for downloading a list of apps (one less thing off of my plate) and their parents are able to see exactly which ones we are using in the classroom. I’ve had parents tell me they feel much more comfortable knowing what we plan to use. If a new app needs to be downloaded, a simple letter goes home. We made every effort to have all apps preloaded before the year starts, but new ones pop up all the time. I suggest waiting until there are a few needing to be loaded so it doesn’t become a negative task for parents. So far we are only using free apps. I’m not sure how or if we will transition to paid ones.
Becoming a BYOD school also requires thought about acceptable use policies. We have many lessons on digital citizenship and proper care, but questions always arise. What happens if it’s a rainy day? Can students take out the device to play Minecraft during recess? Our policy is that it’s only used when the teacher tells them to use it. It’s a slippery slope since the device belongs to them but, so far, it’s been O.K. What about using it on the bus? We discourage using it during this time, but that is something we let parents decide for their child. Teachers also need to make it clear that we are not Apple support personnel! We will help as best we can, but when the device needs to be upgraded or settings need to be changed, these types of things need to be done at home. Also, we have a few students that could not financially afford the device so we have to supplement from our class supply, but what if we couldn’t do that? Could the PTA purchase a few for this purpose? Hopefully knowing in advance that we are a BYOD school for the upper grades will allow for years of saving.
For grade K-5, we utilize the devices differently. We have a cart with 30 in the library with a sign-out sheet in the office. I encourage teachers to use the iPads during their classes but to sign the cart out for hours instead of days at a time. That way, several classes can use them in a day. If all iPads are tied to one school Apple account, only one device needs to have the app downloaded. It’s easy to find on all subsequent devices. Additionally, all of our students are required to have a set of earbuds that are kept in their desk. Many of our apps require sound, so this has made it easier to get full use of the apps without distraction.
Perhaps the most difficult part of using iPads is helping students fight the urge to use them in a way that is inappropriate for class. Sending texts to each other, taking pictures, checking email or Instagram, and other temptations MUST have consequences attached to them and be enforced in the beginning of the year to set the tone. Sending texts to each other is just the 21st century way of passing notes and educators have to consider many scenarios when setting the rules. I walk around the classroom and try to see what’s on all the screens to the best of my ability, but there is always one child trying to watch his favorite YouTube video. Besides great educational tools, iPads are just REALLY fun, and it’s sometimes very difficult for children to use them strictly as assigned. Having students make the rules and consequences for their use is something that works well for me, but I’m always open to suggestions.
Again, this was not what I was hoping to write about in this article. With the help of many great librarians, I have found some fantastic uses for free apps, and I promise that be my next submission! In the meantime, these boring logistical questions have to be addressed BEFORE iPads are used. It will save time and hopefully prevent headaches, but most importantly, it will allow teachers to jump right in and start having fun with this utterly fantastic invention. I never thought something like this would have been possible back when I was fastening my Trapper Keeper!
Today's post is written by Tricia Pfeil, librarian at St. Joseph/St. Robert Elementary School in Pennsylvania. You can find Tricia's library website here