This year our school district launched an iPad initiative for the kindergarten teachers and students at our Title I elementary school.
That is huge for our school, where 97 percent of our families qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch. It will mean that students will be better prepared to navigate technology, an essential skill in the 21st century. They will also have access to interactive learning tools in a variety of subjects.
A federal grant covered the cost for more than 80 kindergarten students. One other school in our district is launching a similar program for fourth-graders.
The goal is to have an iPad in the hands of each of our students by the 2015-2016 school year. It’s ambitious and necessary.
Technology has become a platform for equity in schools.
About 65 years ago, transportation was an issue of equity. African-American parents in Clarendon County, South Carolina were denied school bus transportation for their children to and from school. Their struggle evolved into the lawsuit Briggs v. Elliott which became a part of Brown v. Board of Education.
I did a technology survey of the fourth-graders at our school. I asked 44 students if they had access to technology and the Internet. I learned that 29 of those students have access to the Internet through a computer at home. About 30 of them have access through a smart phone. Only 13 have access through an iPad. And 16 have access through an iPod. But five students have no access to the Internet at home.
I think this group is representative of our student body as a whole.
Now the question for faculty is: How can we use this one-to-one iPad initiative to help students with limited access to technology succeed in the 21st century world?
One of our kindergarten teachers did a KWL chart with her class about iPads. Six of her 22 students had never seen an iPad before. The class knew you could play games, do math, play music, have fun, take pictures, watch videos, look at pictures and pop bubbles on an iPad. They wanted to learn how to call people, play games, write on and protect an iPad. They knew that an iPad was bigger than an iPod and an iPhone.
As educators, we want to help our students use their iPads to create stories, publish their work, read digitally, collaborate with peers and research ideas. We also want to take advantage of the hundreds of apps for learning. For example, Counting Board allows student to count to 100 and ad and subtract numbers. Students can hear letter sounds and words and practice spelling words. There an app using soci puppets to facilitate conversations between puppets in different places around the world.
There are so many possibilities.
The bigger goal is to level the educational playing field with students in the more affluent schools around us who have regular access to technology.
As we begin the year, our kindergartners are only going to use their iPads at school. I would like to see a time when students could take them home and use them as learning tools outside of school.
My dream is clear: Every student has a tablet and access to the Internet, and every teacher has an opportunity to record a lesson and send it out to their students to use at home. The learning will extend to parents who cannot read. Watching reading lessons with their children, they can learn to read together. That would be an awesome advantage for the flipped classroom model.
Barton is an elementary school teacher in South Carolina.