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Making Technology Meaningful in Primary


“So, what are they doing here,” a visiting teacher recently asked me as she observed my kids scanning QR codes to reveal a math story. She watched as the kids, uninterrupted by the five new adults in the room, worked scanning the QR codes with their individual iPads. They wrote down the numbers from the math story they read and recorded the answer in another app. As I explained what my little ones were doing, shock darted across her face. How are 5- and 6-yr olds learning this way? More importantly, why are they learning this way and why dose it matter?

Making Technology Meaningful in Primary by Kirstin McGinnis

Guest Post by Kirstin McGinnis from Hip Hooray in K

Technology in schools can be used a number of ways, mainly to (a) substitute for traditional instruction, (b) change and transform instruction, or (c) redefine how kids learn and showcase that learning, i.e. the SAMR model. For our classroom, substitution is a path to redefinition. Once we learn about technology and how it works, we can utilize it in ways, which we have not previously, to access and understand concepts and make meaning of content. This is the purpose of technology in schools: to help bring meaning, importance, and life to content and to increase inquiry, productivity, and opportunities for our students.

So, how are my 5- and 6-yr olds doing this? Seems like a lot to expect from them right? Not so much… We start the year as a traditional kindergarten, yet we have an added subject: technology literacy. We learn through and with our iPads, but not neglecting traditional fine motor and social growth. We are basically substituting instruction where appropriate until our class has the building blocks of technology literacy. And then it kind of just takes off from there.

The kids build meaning from everything they do on the iPad because it is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. They use QR codes to scan read alouds and discuss with their friends. Individual students record themselves reading – and although they think its their “five minutes of fame,” it provides each child with a running record of how they read so that we can conference and make improvements. Each child is genuinely excited about what they are learning – be it science, math, literacy, or social studies based. And when they aren’t excited, they walk away from the technology where they can find tangible books, science experiments, and crafts. In this manner, we are creating a classroom where our students can access content based on interest and inquiry, follow multiple step directions, and understand that the technology is a tool.

By the end of the year, our class is “app-smashing” or using one app and producing content through a different app. We are using QR codes to find information, researching science topics, we are filling in graphic organizers, sending and receiving formative feedback, uploading, submitting, and collaborating. We may not be using the technology to “redefine” as middle school and high school students do, but man are my kiddos redefining kindergarten.

Below are a number of ways in which we use technology (iPads) in our class. I think it is hard not to see it in action and can be difficult to envision, so please contact me if I can help clarify.

I do want to put this disclaimer out there – I have a background teaching kindergarten in a traditional setting, with little to no tech. I understand, and highly value, the foundations of child development and in no way would ever try to substitute those fundamentals with technology. So here are my tips on building on those skills to open the world of innovation and education:

iPads in Primary:  What Works and Why

  • Use a “workflow” app.

Ok, this is my #1 tip for teachers. I love, love, LOVE Showbie. Teachers can send PDFs, pictures, videos, comments, etc. to students’ iPads. They can edit and respond. You can message parents, maintain running formative assessments and provide instantaneous feedback. Students can showcase work and you have a running file folder on your iPad. It is genius. I have a lot more information on my blog if you are interested in it.

  • QR Codes

So… I turn off Safari on my student’s iPads. It just isn’t safe for them to have unrestricted access to the Internet, as they are becoming technology literate. I am not comfortable with it. However, when I want them to access the Internet, I do so with a QR code. You can copy a link from YouTube into Safe Share, and make a QR code from that. Then go to a QR code generator and generate a QR. Kids can access only the content you intend, with no ads, or temptations. You can also use QRs as a way to access written content. Recently, we played with QR dice. Roll the dice, scan, read the math story, write it, respond in Showbie – done! Oh, and this helps with learning multiple step directions.

  • App Smashing

What I just mentioned is called App Smashing; using one app and then responding, or producing content from that app in another app. By the end of the year, we have got the hang of this – mostly!

  • Centers

Put your center response sheets on your iPad through Showbie. Cut down on paper usage, reduce the never-ending stack of paper in your bag, and provide immediate feedback.

  • Bringing It Home

We bring our iPads home. That way, every tool is there for students to extend the school day, work on finishing a project, learn responsibility, etc. Since I use Showbie, parents can contact me through their child’s iPad, view formative feedback, and continue working on what we did in school that day.

  • Differentiation

Put what each child needs on their individual iPad – simple. Early finishers can have research tasks, students who are struggling can have apps based on need, accessibility options turned on etc. Differentiation with iPads is extremely important and logical.

I honestly could go on for days about the world that iPad technology opens in our classroom. More importantly, about the gains that my students make and the meaning that comes through using iPads to access content. Technology in classrooms can (and will) redefine education and how our students learn. When it is used with integrity, technology changes how our students feel about learning and allows them to open doors we may have not seen in the past. If you use tech in your classroom, you know all these things.

If you are trying to get tech into your school or classroom, or you are reluctant because there can be a concern that technology will replace teachers, I am here to tell you I have been on both sides of the field. I understand the concerns and the value in teaching our kids to be humans first. But, technology is not going away, and it is our responsibility to prepare students to use technology as a tool – to use it to explore, create, and produce. I am thrilled and overwhelmed by the abilities of my 5- and 6-yr olds and feel that I have adequately prepared them to be innovators.
Take the leap, if you haven’t already. Technology, especially in primary, is redefining how our students learn – actually, students using technology in primary is redefining how we learn too.

Want to learn more about integrating technology in your primary classroom? Try this FREE “Getting Started with iPads: Tips You Need Pack!”

Getting Started

Kirstin McGinnis is a kindergarten teacher in South Berwyn School District 100 – an Apple Distinguished District. She runs the kinder/tech blog Hip Hooray in K and loves learning alongside her students and co-teacher. Follow her on Teachers Pay Teachers or Facebook.

Be sure to pin the picture below to save this post so you can come back to it later!  Or, you can have all your teacher friends visit your teaching board so they can find all these great tips as well!

Making Technology Meaningful in Primary:  Why iPads Matter




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