The second graders use their iPads first thing every morning. When they arrive in class, a QR code is waiting for them on the screen. The students scan it and are directed to a site where they enter how they are feeling today, complete with color codes of green and red for "good" and "not so great." The notes are aggregated on a screen for the teacher, and they are shareable with their friends. It's an excellent (and peaceful) ice-breaker for their morning routine. From there, the students may use a reading or math app to productively fill the time before Morning Meeting.
All of the students in lower elementary, grades first through third, seem excited about an app called Book Creator, which allows students to assemble text and pictures to create pages in a book.
"The first graders absolutely love Book Creator," said First Grade Teacher Sarah Brinson. "We use it throughout the year for various projects."
This month in the Tech Lab, the 2nd graders began working on a basic sets of skills as old as the typewriter — but as useful as a hammer and screwdriver.
Using a very colorful and engaging online resource, Computer Science Specialist Cristina Knodel began the students on that long journey into touch typing.
It's all about muscle memory, Ms. Knodel told the students. Just like sports, touch typing requires practice, practice, practice! But the payoff is worth it. Few things can increase your productivity on a computer more than knowing how to type quickly and efficiently.
"If you don’t learn when you’re a kid you’ll have to learn when you're an adult," said 2nd grader Mathias. "If you don’t know how to type you’ll have to do the chicken-finger thing."
This practice must be done with a physical keyboard. The virtual keyboard on the iPad does not lend itself to touch typing, although just learning the location of each letter on a QWERTY keyboard can increase efficiency even if typing with two fingers.
[Editor's Note: I maintain that my 9th-grade typing class on a manual Underwood typewriter was one of the most useful classes I took in school. The ability to touch type has greatly increased my speed in entering text and code on a computer.]
Student iPads are useful in other areas as well. They have the opportunity to use Xtra Math to improve their fluency in math facts. The animation and sounds make learning and practicing math more palatable.
There are other apps that allow students to practice cursive writing, or simply get creative and draw.
Students may listen to books and read along using apps such as Epic! and RazKids. Literacy and Library Specialist Jen Currie noted that listening to audiobooks that are even above grade level can help students identify known words and introduce them to new vocabulary.
The app iMindMaps is an online graphical organizer that students can use to brainstorm ideas for stories and projects. It beats making an outline since it is easy to see the "global picture" of the project. Adding, removing, and editing is as simple as clicking and dragging.
Other apps available to students allow them to use their iPads to program and control robots, which the students find both challenging and amusing.
It is a positive thing that at JCDS children are provided with a wide variety of creative and technological choices. "The reality is, technology is here to stay, and we want to prepare our students to use it safely and effectively," said Ms. Krawiec.