The old routine for using computers, was quite often a “Computer Room”. Each class was allocated a time, usually 1 hour a week/fortnight. In my own case when I was at school, it meant that every Wednesday afternoon, we dropped our pencils, stopped whatever we were doing and marched in an orderly fashion to the “Computer Room”. Once there, we opened up Mavis Beacon, or another similar game and played, in pairs (or threes if you were unlucky,) for about an hour. That was it really! In sixth class, we did a bit of Microsoft Word, opening documents, changing font size etc.. which culminated in everyone typing and printing a small paragraph about themselves. It was very exciting!
When I began my teaching career, there was no computer room in the school. Instead they had decided to give each classroom one or two computers to use in a more practical way. I suppose the idea is that computers can be used as needed, in project work etc… Often, there can be a rota associated with these computers and children can work on their work independently, complete specific programs and access websites. I have seen these computers used as an activity for early finishers, which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
We all know that things have changed! We are no longer using computers to purely teach computer skills. As we are aware, many children are coming into us from Junior Infants with a certain level of skills from home. They are already familiar with keyboards, laptops and now also tablets. As a result, our use of computers in the classroom has changed from a subject in itself, to a commonly used methodology.
Now, technology in schools is moving from exclusively PCs, to also include laptops, netbooks and tablets. In the school I teach in, the Senior end have been using a rota to share a trolley of laptops for a number of years. As an Infant teacher, I knew very little about this system and if it worked successfully and efficiently.
Recently, we purchased a set of iPads and I couldn’t wait for my 4/5 year olds to get their sticky little hands on them! There was a brief discussion on how to utilise them best, and it was decided to implement a similar timetable to the laptop trolleys, incorporating al the class groups from Junior Infants – Sixth Class. I was relatively dubious about this, as I did not want to have to interrupt the natural flow of my classroom to have an hour of “iPad time”. I wanted the iPads to be integrated naturally as a learning tool and I also thought that 15-20 minutes in a small group, would be more than enough for Junior Infants. However, I noted my allocated time, altered my own class timetable somewhat and as a result began to use just 4 of the iPads as a station during literacy teaching time.
After a few weeks, it began to become clear, that many teachers did not want to use the iPads at the same time every week and I became a little disheartened, as often as I passed the IT storage room, I saw the set of iPads sitting lonely in there.
After a quick IT meeting, we decided to try a different approach. We recognised that all of the teachers have different experience of iPads themselves and because of that, each class would have a different need for them. Despite this, we still wanted the iPads to be utilised as much as possible and to become a regular part of our school life. We decided to put up a blank fortnightly timetable, where teachers could select a time/times that suit them and their individual plans/themes for that fortnight. The system has been in place for a few months, and it is working well. Ideally, I would love 4/5 iPads in my classroom all day everyday, but Santa wasn’t that generous this year! I like this system though, as I can plan to integrate the iPads into my lessons or alternatively, if there is a natural need/use for them, there is often an opportunity to book them for that very same day. They are still not used for some portions of the day, but that it ok, because at least we know that they are being used when they are needed.
I know that this system isn’t perfect so I’d love to hear solution from other schools for effectively managing equipment, ensuring that the children are getting the most opportunities to use the technology meaningfully in their classrooms.