iPads and iPod Touches in Primary Grades: Inspiration, Ideas, and Practical Applications

The writing of this article was prompted by numerous conversations concerning the use of iPad and iPod Touch (mobile learning device) technology in early child learning, primarily grades K-2.  I have been amazed by some of the transformative things happening in classrooms.  So, even if you teach older students, you will find much of this article useful; however, the examples are for the little ones.

As a father of a 1st grader, I am a first-hand witness to the power of iPad technology.  My daughter is actively engaged in practicing literacy and numeracy skills, problem solving and critical thinking each time she sits down with the iPad to “play.”  In your classroom, you can expect that same level of enthusiasm and engagement whether you have access to one iPad/iPod Touch or many.  The key is in how you integrate them into learning.

To begin, I really want you to be inspired by the possibilities.  Take 5 minutes to watch this video that showcases how mobile learning is revolutionizing teaching and learning from the earliest ages through, in this case, medical school.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24R1QJAXL4s

The first frame-of-mind that must be accomplished is a transition away from thinking of the mobile learning device as a substitute for a laptop computer.  Yes, it is true that many similar tasks are possible, but the intended use and real advantages come from seeing how they differ.  Your mobile learning device more closely resembles an interactive station or learning game center than a productivity tool.  The apps are more frequently designed with interaction in mind, instead of production.

Think in terms of an implementation scale.

You will go from “zero to engaged” much more quickly when the apps you choose to integrate are “launch and learn.”  Along the spectrum, you may include apps that require the students to add input and data, but that is only needed for that learning session.  At the most complex levels are apps that are used to produce products like documents, presentations, photos and more.  These require much preplanning in order to determine the best way to manage and retrieve multiple student products on a shared device.  Remember, these devices were not built to be shared, but to be personal devices.

The next frame-of-mind to consider is: What practical uses for the device will make a difference for my students?  Successful implementation ideas include:

  • Centers – (try Oobies Space Adventure app)
  • Small Group Investigations – (try Pizza app)
  • Extra Practice – (try Letter of the Day app)
  • Chalkboard  or “hold up slate”– (try Whiteboard Free app)
  • eBooks – (try Toy Story app)
  • Story Telling – (try StoryLines, Comic Touch Lite, apps)

An important skill to practice as a teacher is building “Apptivities.”  An apptivity is a document or handout that gives students direct instructions on what and how you want them to use the app.  It should include screen shots of the app in various stages to visually guide them.  To do this, use the app to the point where you want to explain/instruct.  Then press both the home button (big round one on the front) and the power/lock button (top) at the same time.  This will take a snapshot of your screen and add it to the camera roll of that device.  You can e-mail that image to yourself, or hook the device up to a computer and use iTunes, or My Computer to just save it.  Once you have your screen shots, add them to your Word or Pages document along with instructions.

As a final note, I wanted to give you a short list of places and strategies for finding apps that will make your mobile learning devices a central and important part of everyday instruction.

From the Apple App Store, add these two apps:

  • App Tracker
  • Kinder Town

Each of these two apps are “app stores”  in such a way that they find, organize and present apps for you that can be filtered and searched based on your needs.

Also from the Apple App Store, add the app:


AppStart will teach you how to use and manage your devices.  It is full of tips and tricks that most people are not even aware they can do with their devices.

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