Introducing tablets to the primary school

Written by: HTU | Published:

Many primary schools are introducing tablet devices as part of their ICT strategies. Teacher and app developer Tom Minor offers some advice to get the most out of this technology in the classroom.

The use of tablet devices is on the rise in schools. The UK isn’t yet at the stage of Los Angeles, where the authorities signed a $30 million deal to provide an iPad for every one of the city’s pupils by the end of 2013, but tablets are fast becoming a feature of many classrooms. So how can schools get the most out of them?

There is undoubtedly a media buzz around what is still considered new technology. They are popular with parents (and especially prospective parents). The potential benefits are becoming more and more apparent, both educationally and arguably financially, with the ESSA Academy in Bolton, for example, reporting an annual saving of £65,000 on their photocopying budget following their introduction.

But what considerations should primary headteachers make ahead of the introduction of tablets in their classrooms? And what should be the strategy for their use?

First and foremost, appoint the right person to oversee the introduction of tablets: someone who will embrace the opportunity and become ambassadors for the technology. 

For example, the success of their use at Cedar’s School of Excellence in Greenock can be largely put down to the commitment of Fraser Speirs, the head of IT. Whoever you appoint, they will need to be willing to learn, and capable of leading staff training sessions. The whole school will ultimately need to be confident using the new technology. Without the right person, you may find your tablets gathering dust.

Piloting with a few tablets, perhaps a one-third class set or a half set, is probably the best way to start. A one-to-one programme is a nice ideal, and some schools are already at that stage, but it is a huge leap and a massive cultural change that your school may not be ready for quite yet.

When discussing tablets, thoughts often turn to iPads, but consider alternatives too. The Kindle Fire is a reasonably-priced alternative, with the Amazon App Store working hard to develop educational content. Most other tablets are Android-based, with the Samsung Galaxy range being the next most popular alternative. Little fingers can work equally-well on an iPad Mini, too.

Think about how to use the tablets across the curriculum. Focus on non-subject specific apps, and be creative in their use. For example, most tablets are a Swiss-army knife of tools waiting to be unlocked. This will need research, but some of the following ideas might get you started:

  • Use the camera to snap artwork at various stages in the creative process.
  • Video an experiment – these can be imported into a document.
  • On the iPad, combine with Apple TV – teachers or students can display their work, annotate it, work through step-by-step, and display to the rest of the class at the touch of a button.
  • Communicate – Apps like Socrative allow teachers to quiz their students and automatically collates their responses.
  • Research using the internet. When doing this, use a safe internet browser such as Browser for Kids to monitor content.
  • There are also many good subject-specific apps. View these as supplementing and enhancing your teaching practice. Don’t slip into replacing your teaching with an app, and so avoid apps which replicate worksheets – an expensive and possibly inferior solution. 

Seek-out subject-specific apps that can offer something beyond the usual teaching that is provided. This may be a vast amount of content, (Life and Death in Pompeii, for example), high levels of interactivity (try Solar Walk), or real-time monitoring of each individual’s progress (DoodleMaths for Schools). 

Apps are not just for students. Leading the way for teachers is iDoceo, which allows staff to create and link their planner, diary, mark-book and seating plans in one, along with photos of students, audio notes and more. But the App Store is full of useful tools such as the fun Too Noisy, created by Walsall Academy – a great aid to controlling background noise in the classroom.

Bear in mind that content doesn’t just have to be in the form of apps. Through iBooks you can purchase digital editions of many of the text-books you may use. No need to worry about wear-and-tear, storage and renewal, but you will probably need a one-to-one iPad programme for iBooks to be most effective.

There are plenty of practicalities to consider too. You will need school-wide wi-fi, internet security, tablet cases and a secure stowage unit. Number each device. With iPads, each device should have its own Apple ID. Your appointed co-ordinator will need to register with Apple’s volume purchase program to access reduced-priced apps for educational institutions. And when putting them to use, consider that tablets are designed for personal use – sharing a tablet between two for an activity just doesn’t work.

You may also want to purchase keyboards to attach to your tablets, although I remain to be convinced of their effectiveness. I don’t see tablets as entirely replacing PCs, and there remains a lot that is better done with a keyboard and mouse. But while the traditional PC remains a resource that is at the teacher’s disposal, tablets feature many advantages. A huge benefit lies in a tablet’s portability, quick start-up, and its level of interactivity, allowing it to be seamlessly integrated into everyday lessons. 

When it comes to the use of tablets, their increased use in our classrooms seems inevitable, which is why it is important to have a strategy in place so you can get the very best out of them for your pupils.

  • Tom Minor is a teacher and creator of the best-selling apps DoodleMaths (Primary Maths) and DoodleMaths for Schools.

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