Much is made of the downfall of future generations at the hands of technology. “TV, video games, and computers have created a generation of pasty, thoughtless, and lazy children” so they say. Gone are the days of getting dirty outside while pouring salt on snails and hours of entertainment reading the encyclopedia.
Wait. What? There are certainly many wonderful things for kids to learn playing outside or reading the encyclopedia, but that doesn’t, itself, damn technology entirely. That being said, TV and video games are mindless entertainment. Despite how “educational” these shows are, there is little in the way of interactive content that requires imagination and thought in the world of TV, Xbox, playstation, etc. Similarly, an iPad — often used as a portable TV and video game console — could very much serve to sedate the minds of small children whose parents have no better discipline strategies.
The point of contention for most child development and educational purists lies with the issue of natural discovery. For hundreds of years, children’s real world experiences inspired their intellectual curiosity. A child’s imagination might be peeked gazing into the heavens or exploring a wooded area. This has not changed. Children have not changed. Allowing them to plop down at will in front of the TV for cartoons or video games is definitely detrimental. But this isn’t a result of the technology itself. It’s a result of how we utilize the technology. Current television content makes it a passive, thoughtless medium. Today’s video games, even those billed as educational, still ignore the element of discovery. To some an iPad might seem like a similar distraction in the hands of a young learner. In all actuality, utilized correctly, the iPad could usher in an entirely new and robust age of discovery.
What traits does the iPad possess that distinguish it as a powerful educational tool?
With the iPad you have a world’s worth of reference materials at your fingertips in an ultimately portable device. Every major reference is available through safari or as a standalone app. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, academic papers, university resources, etc. all in one device that weighs barely more than a pound. Apple has made it a point to provide models for usability; allowing developers to present even the most mundane of content in beautiful and intuitive ways. They have even built certain references right into the iPad’s software. A child reading an article, book, website, or app on their iPad can simply hold their finger on any word they don’t understand and get a definition.
Though still in its infancy, all five major textbook publishers have committed to providing digital versions of their titles, each at an affordable price of $14.99 or less for K-12. These aren’t simply the current texts in digital form. Textbook publishers are embedding videos, interactive widgets, customizable study cards, and quizzes with real time assessment right into the text. In many cases this makes what could be confusing or boring material come alive. And because Apple has provided powerful creation tools, there is no limit to what can be provided in these textbooks. Additionally, because they are in digital form, the text are never out of date if the publisher chooses to update them. Currently, the most popular textbooks used throughout the United States are available in the textbooks section of iBooks, but more are being added each month.
The wealth of applications designed specifically for the iPad essentially turn the device into the ultimate discovery tool. Apps for astronomy, chemistry, botany, mathematics, physics, entomology, and geology are just a few of the ways to turn an iPad into a specialized instrument for study and discovery.
Learning about the universe? Star Walk is a beautiful app that uses your location and the built in gyroscope to identify the stars you are seeing in the sky. Simply hold the iPad up to the sky and the app labels the stars, constellations, planets, and even satellites that you see. Tapping on any object will give you even more information and resources for study.
Learning about wildlife? Project Noah is an app designed to document the plants and animals you see in the wild. Teachers and students can share their findings and even join worldwide missions to complete objectives.
Vernier Video Physics allows students to video an object in motion, mark it’s position frame by frame, and set up a scale using a known distance. The app then draws trajectory, position, and velocity graphs.
These are but a few of the astounding apps built for students and teachers. Every grade level is represented in the iBooks and App Stores; from memory games and apps to practice writing the alphabet to apps that turn the iPad into a scientific and graphing calculator, there are resources for all levels of students and teachers.
Discovery is only part of the equation, however. With the new iTunes U app for iPad and iPhone, teachers can distribute digital handouts, reading assignments, presentations, app suggestions, and even messages from the teacher to students enrolled in their class. Students receive a push notification when messages or new materials are posted and they can then check off assignments completed to help keep them organized and current in their class.
Everyday a new technology comes along to replace something that was once accomplished by man either physically or mentally. The mundane information we were once required to hold onto (phone numbers, etc.) have been replaced simply by a name and picture in a list. Calculations once scrolled on blackboards are now solved in milliseconds. And, yes, where once a child’s imagination had to keep them entertained, a glass screen now offers them a ready made solution for their boredom, no imagination required. But this is in no way the fault of the technology itself, but, rather, how we use it.
While some mediums created by technology will continue to render down the minds of the world’s youth into goo, the iPad lights the way for those seeking to embrace the new and exciting prospects of digital discovery. The iPad does not shut the mind of its user behind a wall of mindless noise. It opens a world of possibilities.