Education Technology: Apps in the Elementary Classroom (Part 1)

Third in a series. Click to read “Apps in the Middle School Classroom” or “Highly Used Apps in High Schools“.

Five years ago, most people did not expect to be carrying around a communication tool in their pocket that gave them not only a phone but complete Internet access. With the explosive development of new apps for these devices, including apps for education, teachers are quickly embracing this technology, even in elementary schools.

This is Part 1 of a two-part post about iPods in elementary classrooms and part of a larger series looking at the impact of technology on classrooms, teachers, school media services, students, and parents.

It is one of the first really hot days of spring, and the kids climbing off the school bus look like they would prefer the playground to the classroom. Funneling through the door, their collective energy hits like a wave moving through the school. I am out of place, an oddity, a visitor standing in the lobby, and one young boy asks me, “Are you a teacher?”

Before I can answer, my host for the day, Eboun, pops in, saying, “Mary is here to play with our iPods!” The response is immediate—every child naming a favorite app all at once. Clearly, the kids are enjoying these amazing tools of technology. Before my visit is over, I come to realize that I could easily enjoy this type of “play.” It is intriguing to explore many of these apps and see the creative ways this technology is being used throughout the school.

Media specialist ipod teaching © by M. Stennes Wilbourn

At a small charter school such as this, most of the staff wear several hats. Eboun is a paraprofessional in special education part of the day but also serves as the media specialist for the school. The fact that she has significant training in music technology was a stepping stone, leading her to take on the role of iPod guardian for the school. After a staff retreat two years ago, at which a teacher from a school already using iPods in classes shared her experience, the principal, a classroom teacher, the ELL program leader, and Eboun quickly became committed to bringing iPods to their students. A grant and some budget juggling helped purchase the first station of 30 iPod touches—which are like smart phones in every respect except the telephone part—and their supporting equipment into the school. Now they have 60 individual units, which are in constant use. While they are using the Apple technology, there is parallel equipment and apps supported by Google as well.

We start my tour visiting offices and classrooms where the iPods are in use at the moment. The second-grade classroom looks like a lounging space, with students sprawled out on floors or grouped at tables, chattering away. “It is math practice time,” the teacher offers. “Each student is working on one of four math apps, drilling fractions.” Kids run up to show me what they are doing. They explain to me that they are dividing this log into the fraction given or stacking fractions of boxes to make a whole one. At one table, a girl squeals with joy as she finishes her “game.”

A visit to the workroom of Jen, the English language learner program leader, reveals one of the most compelling iPod successes at this school. With nearly all of the students coming from Hmong and Karen (an ethnic group primarily from southern and southeastern Burma) immigrant families, the ELL program is entrenched throughout the school. Jen simply gushed with stories and praises for using the iPod touch apps with students. “We use several apps for reading and for pronunciation,” Jen explains. “A student can read aloud, recording her own voice, and then hear it back.” Some apps have vocal demonstrations of pronunciation, others save the student’s reading for a teacher to review later and plan for the next lessons.

We follow the iPods throughout the day, as they are shifted from a class researching plant growth to a group taking them along on a field trip. The fifth-grade classroom walls feature handwritten charts showing different poetic formats that students refer to as they write poems on the iPods. Some are collaborating with classmates, editing and revising together. After the iPods are collected, the teacher can review their work and leave comments.

Adding this technology to the school has created a high learning curve for all the staff. Managing the hardware takes time. There needs to be a check-out system, charging and cleaning stations, schedules, and ways to ensure that these sturdy devices are protected. Each iPod touch is numbered, and teachers assign them to individual students. Cases with lanyards help when students take them on field trips. The charging station, equipped with disinfectant wipes, sits at the school receptionist’s desk. This means that there is always staff monitoring the equipment, and teachers have access when Eboun is wearing her other hat in a special ed classroom.

Controlling the storage of work the students produce is another aspect of managing the iPod library. Teachers help Eboun in editing out material that is no longer needed. “Every week, I spend a chunk of time updating, charging, deleting things, and making sure each iPod is fresh and ready for use.” The charging stations allow for charging and uploading to 30 units at a time. One challenge is managing what is stored in their iCloud account. With a minimal budget, the school cannot afford to keep adding storage space, so files have to be deleted regularly to make room for new material.

In Apps in the Elementary School (Part 2) we take a look at some apps that have become favorites in this school as well as how staff has set rules for appropriate iPod use.

Are you using iPod or similar technology in your classrooms? Please share your challenges, successes, and classroom stories with us by commenting below or by email.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources
Project Based Learning in Hand from Learning in Hand demonstrates extensive use of iPod touch tech for planning, research, and presentation
K–3 Using Technology in the Classroom from K–

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

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5 Responses to Education Technology: Apps in the Elementary Classroom (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Education Technology: Apps in the Elementary Classroom (Part 1 ... | Music education and music technology |

  2. Jan J. says:

    We have two iPods and are considering a lot more. Never thought about the charging and updates. How long does that take every week?

    • Eboun says:

      We charge our iPods every other day during the school week. The iPods are constantly in use so we try to keep the battery life full at all times. The nice thing about Apple is they give you a message when it’s time to update the iPods. I backup the iPods once a week and that takes a few hours. If you are planning to purchase more iPods I recommend a powersync case for charging. You can order one on the Apple store website. I hope you purchase more iPods, they are great learning tools.

  3. My six year old step-son not only knows how to play these games on his dads phone, he can download them on his own too! I’m impressed!

    • Eboun says:

      iPods are very user friendly. Our kindergarten classes are able to navigate through the apps with little direction.

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