As we get ready to make our big ipad purchase, and as a result, start to configure them for student use, I’ve been thinking about how much access we want our students to have to the ipad. I’ve seen some covers that advertise the fact that they cover the “home” button so students can’t get to it. Before we’d spent a lot of time with the ipads, I probably would have thought that was a good idea. I mean, I did blog about how my little tech-master found his way to Angry Birds in the app store within 30 seconds of me handing him the ipad for the first time. I was genuinely concerned that he might do some serious damage. However, now that we’ve been using the ipad for a few months, I can’t imagine how much more complicated and challenging things would be for me if my students didn’t have access to that home button. One of the first skills I taught them was how to end an ipad session by pressing the home button to get the ipad ready for the next user. If I had to reset each iPad after each use, that would take valuable minutes of teaching and learning time. Our QR codes for Sight Words activities would have been impossible if the students hadn’t had access to the home button. That activity required them to switch back and forth between the Safari browser and a scanning app. They couldn’t have done it if the home button were covered up.
Recently, I’ve been reading about ways to lock students into certain apps. I have mixed feelings about that. I do still worry that my Angry Birds boy could mess up an ipad. Seriously, every time I hand him an ipad he manages to end up somewhere besides where I intended him to be. At the same time though, he’s made some neat discoveries this way. He’s the same boy that I wrote about in the journaling on an ipad posts, here and here. This same propensity for ipad exploration which led him to the app store, also helped him discover the background water scene and glitter pen for his journal entries. Those discoveries were really worthwhile and they enhanced his understanding of the idea that the ipad can be a creative tool, not just a gaming device. If I had limited his ability to access those tools by locking him out of certain parts of an app he would have missed out on the chance to learn through discovery.
There are also places where I really appreciate some parental (teacher) control features on the ipad. Teach Me Toddler is still one of our most used apps. One of its best features is the way that each student profile is locked so that it can’t be accidentally or intentionally accessed by another student. It really allows each students to progress at their own pace. So many other apps without this feature just allow one student to continue where another left off, leaving the opportunity for huge gaps in learning.
In general, I subscribe to a more open ipad management concept. There is a place for passwords and there are certainly some places on the ipad that should be locked up tight. For example, I don’t think open access to the app store with pre-schoolers is ever going to be a good idea, but I don’t think completely locking down the ipads, home button and all, is a good idea either. One of the maxims of our classroom is that children should do as much for themselves as they are capable of. For example, if they know how to write their name (even if imperfectly) they should write it on art projects. Sure a teacher’s writing is neater and quicker, but we’re not going to steal that learning opportunity from the child. If they don’t know how to write their name, we’re going to teach them, and they are going to start writing their name, in whatever form they can manage, on those art projects. I want to approach the iPad in the same way. There are lots of ways that we can make technology neater and quicker for our kids, but those ways come at the expense of learning. If we teach our students how to manage the devices, and give them clear expectations, they are going to be stronger students of technology than if we lock them out of the places that we deem too complicated for them.
The trick is going to be figuring out just how much they are capable of managing. We set high standards for our students and expect them to be writing their name pretty early on in the school year. That’s because we have a combined 30 years teaching experience, know preschoolers and know what they are capable of… in terms of language arts. We don’t really know what preschoolers are capable of on an ipad. It’s new territory. If we want to find out how far these kids can go with an ipad, we don’t want to start out with a bunch of teacher imposed limits. I’d rather impose the limits as we find we need them. I’m guessing we’ll need fewer limits than one might initially think and I’m also guessing that these preschoolers are going to end up doing some pretty impressive things with these ipads, once we find the right ways to teach them.