A well-organised virtual space makes it possible to employ a variety of educational applications available on tablets and smartphones. Some of them can be launched on mobile devices, and others may be displayed on an interactive board or a multimedia screen. How to provide such a tablet class?
AREA: VIRTUAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
Multimedia boards had been used in my classroom for a few years. Nevertheless, the software did not provide all the necessary tools and functionalities. Open Sankore software was then installed on a laptop, which definitely extended the use of the multimedia lab. Tablets appeared quite unexpectedly.
In March 2013, one of my classes won a European competition. Their eTwinning project was deemed the best in their age category and they received a set of 23 tablets as a result. This prize was definitely a surprise, but also a challenge! I was faced with a new situation: a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model of working with children. (The tablets became the students’ personal property.) I devoted two months of vacation time to learning how to use these devices. I tested various educational apps on them, read Polish and foreign blogs by teachers working with tablets, and I started to write my own blog concerning early school education with the use of these devices. When the new school year started, our educational space was much bigger.
Tablets need access to fast Internet. A separate router was therefore installed in my classroom, and additional extension cords were provided to enable device charging. I also sent a list of applications to be installed on the tablets to my pupils. During the first class, we established the rules for tablet use and decided on days when tablets could be brought to class. I suggested using freeware apps, but also took into account the suggestions made by the pupils. As a result, we installed some of the apps proposed by the students, after their educational value was confirmed.
I noticed that the students started to work more actively and engaged in finding additional uses of the installed apps. Thanks to the jointly established rules, there were no rule violations. The students immediately became mature, responsible mobile device users. At first we used tablets twice a week, and after a few months we switched to three times per week. This does not mean that we only use tablets on a tablet day. In early school education, it is very important to provide children with diverse educational experiences. Most of the time was therefore devoted to traditional methods, such as drawing, writing, painting or cutting. Whenever we wanted to achieve something more elaborate and we needed technology, we would switch on the tablets. At the same time, thanks to the multimedia board, each student was able to present his/her works on a bigger screen.
Thanks to this learning method children can acquire skills that help them combine studying with technology also at later stages of their education. The use of electronic devices was intentional and well planned, and did not replace any other school activity. The students were engaged in their work, shared their outputs and co-created the class by preparing quizzes or tasks to be performed by their peers. They were also willing to make use of the installed applications at home and perform additional tasks of their own making. They often invented new games and exercises. They also willingly helped their parents and siblings in everyday tablet use. They now use critical thinking when it comes to new technology and its advantages.
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Jolanta Okuniewska is teacher in Elementary School No. 13 in Olsztyn, Poland. She also is the Finalist of the Global Teacher Prize 2016 competition organized by the Varkey Foundation.