iPads and Playdough? The Use of Tablets in Kindergarten

Recently the school board in Auburn, Maine announced that it would be spending $200,000 to provide iPads for all their Kindergarten students. The District Superintendent, Tom Morrill
seem to inflame an already controversial decision by  suggesting that iPads in Kindergarten will provide “improved student proficiency scores” by sustaining student engagement with the curriculum. (Huffington Post). The parents of this community  have started a group called Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education and it is interesting to read their opinions and suggestions for iPad use in the classroom which includes a  “gradual thorough research based introduction of iPads with a select group of students to monitor effectiveness of the tool before proceeding with wide scale implementation.”

No kidding!

Were the school board officials drinking some kind of Steve Job’s martini when they decided on full scale iPad implementation without a modest pilot program?

Despite this clumsy decision making process I am cautiously celebrating this school board decision. It’s too early to determine what effect the iPad will have on student proficiency scores but there is evidence to suggest that computer tools provide students with extended, repeated, increasingly complex tasks that allow them to develop memory capacity and problem solving skills (Ray and Smith 2010). Environments that provide explicit, systematic and contextualized learning experiences can be enriched by computer assisted instruction because there is potential to foster increase of phonological awareness, vocabulary acquisition, and alphabetic knowledge in young learners (Macraruso and Walker, 2008) .

The key word here is  “potential” because there are too many other variables that determine the successful use of technology in a classroom environment not the least of which is  is the confidence of the teacher to use technical devices in creative and sometimes complex ways.

More often than not equipment such as iPads, Smartboards, laptops, iclickers are placed in classrooms and teachers are “strongly encouraged” to use these devices with little training and minimal time to learn, troubleshoot, and share their understandings and doubts about such tools. As a result, their unacknowledged investment of time and growing resentment forges a path of least resistance which can sometimes lead to mundane uses of the sophisticated tools that simply maintain a sense of order in a classroom and do not require a teacher’s undivided attention to troubleshoot unexpected technical issues. Do iPads belong in kindergarten classrooms? Given how diverse learning environments can be there is no conclusive answer- yet.

But despite the school board’s alienating decision making process  I hope this initiative is successful and that the teachers and students in Auburn discover imaginative, stimulating, connections and approaches to learning with the iPad.

More views about this topic:
Thinking about iPads in Kindergarten
The coolest Kindergarten ever

Digital Kindergarten

Teaching Kindergarten with iPads

Lessons learned from my Sheltie

1. Never give up the opportunity to chew a biscuit
2. Approach strangers with curious caution
3. When in doubt bark to get a second opinion
4. A walk renews all the senses
5. Make time to unwind in a comfortable sunbeam
6. Sometimes it’s better to herd than to lead
7. Supper is always a time to celebrate
8. Grooming is a necessary evil
9. Seeing loved ones no matter how often is always cause for excitement
10. Chewing a woman’s shoes is a desperate, pathetic act but will get her attention.

What is your fast? What is your feast?

This is a season of fasting for some and I have been taught that to fast is to abstain from something that brings me pleasure. I read these words last week and their irritating rhythm keeps unfurling throughout this day.

Sometimes I find the most challenging acts of fasting are intentionally moving away from those behaviors and thought processes that are shallow caves of false security and self preservation and moving towards riskier, less desirable precipices of tenderness and integrity.

Depending on my choices – feasting is more challenging than fasting.

The verses above mean the most to me but the rest of these verses written by Bishop Arthur Lichtenberger can also be found here.

Inspiring People

On Saturday night I attended a presentation by two young men, Duncan and Jonnie Penn who are two members of the team called The Buried Life. These are four young guys who for the last few years have been traveling in a purple bus called Penelope to complete their “bucket list” of 100 things. They are the latest MTV Reality Show Sensation after being plucked from YouTube a couple of years ago.  There is no doubt that these guys are definitely entertaining with their “never say never” motivation to fulfill dreams that may seem impossible.

I would have walked away from the presentation on Saturday amused and entertained by their refreshing tenacity if it ended as all traditional presentations end – with a famous quote, joke or montage of footage from their recent exploits.

Instead the Penn brothers invited any member of the 300 member+ audience  to approach a microphone and declare their dream that they wished to fulfill before they die.

When this invitation to declare a personal dream was announced there was a rush of a few young girls to the microphone who predictably declared their dream to kiss one of the brothers on stage. But after the initial hugs and kisses were over, there was an uncomfortable transition in the evening.

Several young men and women tentatively described their struggle with mental illness, lost loved ones, abandonment and their simple dream to be healthy, or to be reconnected with people.  As I listened to one vulnerable story after another I became uncomfortable  because I was concerned with how the MTV  “hot shots” on stage would respond. My worry subsided as I marveled at Jonnie and Duncan’s tender, sensitive and sincere response to every person. They gave each young man and woman time to speak, weep, and find the words to express their heart’s desire. They took time to reaffirm each speaker’s struggle, pain, loss with a profound sense of empathy. Occasionally a clarifying question was posed or an encouraging statement was shared. Their responses were neither glib or patronizing. The MTV superstars on stage seemed to know this wasn’t about them it was about the people who bravely voiced their dream and those of us in the audience who were privileged to hear it.

This experience could have easily been a slick presentation to perpetuate the MTV machine but it became a catalyst event for everyone to consider themselves worthy of dreaming. Duncan and Jonnie showed compassion, wisdom and insight in their public interactions with each of the audience members who spoke. Instead of the the token 5-10 minutes at the end of presentation that is typically allotted for comments, 30minutes was given for people to share their stories and their dreams. This was one third of the entire presentation.

Walking out of the auditorium that night was like riding  a tidal wave of conversations, questions, declarations and laughter. People were actually talking- to one another!

And I experienced something I haven’t felt in awhile.


I realized that’s what I want in a presentation.

I’m done with sitting through and creating presentations with no or little time to connect with the collective inspiration of  those around us.

I’m done with technology tools that reinforce solo performances.

I want to create and attend presentations that promote the insights of others. I want to inspire people to really talk to one another againeven while in the same room.

Kudos to the men of  The Buried Life for not selling out as  just entertainers and for chipping out space in this crusty world to share the struggle and to dream.

© The Buried Life

Student Course Evaluations: Are they worthwhile?

©cho45’s photostream

So I finally found the time and admittedly the nerve to pick up and read my student evaluations for EDCI 336 from  last term. I promised myself that I would set up the scenario with the following parameters:

1. Read evaluations while experiencing  a high self-esteem trend.
2. Have someone available on speed dial if I need to banter about the results.
3. Read evaluations just before or just after a workout, tennis game, or exceptional bottle of wine.

Why so tentative?

Before obtaining my evaluations I talked to someone who I admire and aspire to be like (Em that’s you!) She’s the kind of person who is your multi-vitamin of life. She is full of joy, wisdom, perspective and with the precious capacity to listen. She said that her student evaluations were “brutal” very critical and full of comments that she deemed to be less than constructive.

My fear of experiencing a similar plight?

I gave it my all.

I don’t think given the same circumstances I could have worked any harder during this experience. Despite my best effort what if I failed? What if I somehow missed the connection?

So I’m well acquainted with failure and I find opportunities to proclaim the opportunities that failure awakens but when faced with the possibility of a teaching debacle it is truly uncomfortable..particularly when the edge is so fine between a great teaching/learning experience and a dismal one.

Walking to my car with the manila envelope tucked under my arm I felt the tension building so much so that upon arriving at my car I threw open the door, tore open the envelope and peered at the results. A confusing array of columns and numbers didn’t give me immediate clarity. I had to comb through mean, medians, standard deviations to condense my overall impression.

After a few minutes I breathed a sigh of relief. I reviewed a range of results from “Very Poor” to “Excellent” with more results on the “Excellent” side of the teeter totter than the “Very Poor”.

. …Exhale…  “Well at least I didn’t suck.”

No, not very mature is it? But I think I reveal the gnawing insecurity that educators who start their career today and those who have been teaching for over twenty years experience each time they dare to engage with this mystery called teaching. The teeter totter of engaged learning can be very unpredictable.

Did these evaluations help me in my pursuit to provide the best learning experience? Well, given the number of written responses trashing Twitter I likely won’t spend as much time badgering students about tweeting pedagogy. Other than a few minor modifications I’m not sure these evaluations are a valuable means of improving my practice.

I’m discovering that every group of students I encounter has its distinct characteristics and needs. I need to prepare presentations and activities that respond to the unique disposition of the class and learning styles during the course- while it still matters not after course has finished.  The most invaluable feedback I received was at the beginning and midway part of the term when I distributed an online questionnaire about the content, delivery and direction of the course. With this feedback I was able to make some changes to both the preparation and delivery of the course material. Next time maybe I’ll plan to canvass the class three times during the term or look for “mini-forms”  of feedback to see if this maintains or increases their engagement.


Paying A Premium To Tune Out The World

I read this article over the weekend about highly educated ambitious people relying on paid subscriptions to applications such as Anti-Social and Freedom to prevent themselves from social networking distractions while working on their computers. Really? This reminds me of the time I first saw those tiny chocolate bars that you could purchase for more money than a regular chocolate bar but provided a relatively guilt free sugar hit. Why can’t we postpone the distractions until the work is done? Why can’t we buy normal food portions and consume what we need? Are we so detached from the present and so uncomfortable with solitude that we constantly crave online social interactions?  Kathy Gill from Washington University suggests that tweets,  status updates, blog comments etc.. raise serotonin levels so that some people are conditioned to rely on these stimuli like pathetic Pavlovian canines. I don’t get it. I’m on the outer reaches of the extrovert spectrum but I turn off all distractions when faced with impending deadlines that require long hours in front of this screen. Then again I’ve never bought a skimpy chocolate bar for double the price either. How about you? Would you pay for a tool that helps you tune out social distractions?

It’s Time To Break Some Rules

So I have been evaluating why I don’t seem to make time to blog and I realized that I outgrew my blog and that I needed to change it so that it reflects more of who I am at this point in my life. I spend a good deal of time  designing and evaluating educational technologies and online learning tools but this is only a slice of  life that I live. So despite the fact that blogs should be focused on one theme I’ve decided that the blog for me and one that I will invest some creative energy in is a smorgasbord of ideas and experiences. Speaking of smorgasbord why don’t we use this word anymore?
First up on the smorgasbord experience. An unexpected Victoria snowfall…Woke up motivated to continue my running regimen but not so fast…a foot of snow fell on Victoria snarling traffic and bringing Canada’s Lotus Land to a serene standstill. Check out my pics in my photo gallery.

Photo above by ©bayswater97