Nice touch: iPod device educates pupils subtly

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Primary class tests council-bought gadgets for a term and benefits from using apps and maps

At the speed of light, 11-year-old Emily Weir's fingers move over the screen of the iPod Touch in her hand. Within seconds, she changes from a mind-game app, directing a balloon past obstacles, to one that allows a video conference with her classmates, then on to an internet search engine.

The P7 pupil's class at Glencairn Primary in Motherwell has used iPod Touches across the curriculum for the past year and enhanced its learning with the opportunities the technology provides.

"It tricks people into thinking they are doing fun things, but they are learning at the same time," says Caity Fyfe, 11.

North Lanarkshire Council's ICT amp; Technical Services Centre purchased the iPod Touches early last year and chose Glencairn to test their potential for one term. Each of the 20 pupils in last year's P6 was given a device and learnt, under the supervision of their teacher Robyn Moonie and staff development officer John Johnston, to use a large variety of apps, from mind games and search engines to dictionaries, maps and programs for creating comic strips and storyboards.

They quickly understood how to pass on information from one iPod Touch to another by "bumping" them, and the school was able to control their internet access through the iPods because they are connected to the school network.

The children were responsible for their iPods' safe-keeping and, while the devices had to remain in the school overnight, had to ensure they were charged in time for lessons. Following the success of the five-month trial, the school organised a "dance-a-thon" to raise pound;1,500 and invested in ten iPod Touches of its own. These are now being used across all age groups and various subject areas.

"It is such a worthwhile resource - you cannot stress that enough," says Ms Moonie. "It is not taking away from other resources like computers or books, but it adds another dimension. It is not always possible to have access to the internet, so the iPod touch is another way to provide access."

Tasks are spread out throughout the school day, to get the children focused on their work first thing in the morning, help them solve a problem or act as a treat once they have finished their work.

"Sometimes it was integrated into the maths programme, or quite often I would do it as the last task once they had finished their work. They also used it in their free time. During reward time it is also used, and there are some apps that have a bit more of a fun element to them," says Ms Moonie.

"I am really not a computer whizz, but I can see the impact on the children and it motivates me and makes it exciting."

Next to her, Fraser Wright, 10, proudly shows off his research skills by demonstrating how to take notes in the Notes app, having found the information he was looking for on the Wikipanion app. The children have taken to it like ducks to water, teaching each other how to use new apps and carrying out research tasks with enthusiasm.

"It is more interactive and I find textbooks awfully boring at times," says Fraser. "I did a project on Sir William Alexander Smith - he was the founder of the boys brigade, but I knew that already. We used Google images and an application called Wikipanion to read more about him."

The iPod Touches will be timetabled this term so that teachers can plan lessons according to when they will have them at their disposal, and children can look forward to their turn. Those who took part in the pilot are acting as tutors, passing on their skills to younger pupils.

Children have recorded their achievements in podcasts and blogs on a website where the wider community and pupils' parents can leave comments.

The website also acts as feedback for the council's equipment loans service which, apart from iPods, stores cameras, microphones, Wiis and other devices. Schools can take borrow these for a term on a "try before you buy" basis.

The Glencairn pupils are looking forward to using their iPods this term. "The new ones have a camera on them, so we can talk to each other on video," says Emily. "It is called Facetime and it's like a video conference."

Julia.belgutay@tes.co.uk

TOP TEN APPS

Wikipanion

An iPod version of the internet service Wikipedia, good for instant information.

Google Images

A tool for general research, which also provides pictures for storyboards (a favourite with the youngest children) and Comic Twist.

Comic Twist

Let pupils put together their own comic strips.

WhiteBoard

Allows each child to draw on a virtual whiteboard and communicate with the rest of the class. Used for chats and setting each other sums in maths classes.

Notes

A notetaking app that allows children to copy and paste information from the internet, take notes and save them on the device.

Flags

Allows children to source and research flags of the world and information on each country.

Human Body

Allows them to research the workings of bones, muscles and nerve structures by leading them around the human body.

Google Earth

Caity Fyfe was able to look up a hotel in America, where she stayed, and look at a satellite picture of it.

Fling!

Fraser Wright enjoyed problem-solving with this, flinging balls and trying to get them together.

Facetime

The cameras on the new iPods allow the children to talk to each other on video and record performances.

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