Whitefield Academy Blog

iPads and Their Use in Elementary Classrooms

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Classical Christian, Education, Technology, Uncategorized, Upper School | 0 comments

Every year, Whitefield Academy seniors spend the year researching a subject of interest to them and write a 20 page research paper on the subject. They then present their research to the greater Whitefield community and answer questions from the audience. The following post is senior Kyla Lindsey’s thesis presentation on iPad use in elementary classrooms. Kyla plans to attend College of the Ozarks and major in Elementary Education. If you would like to see the presentation in its entirety with the footnotes, please click here.

iPads should not be used in the elementary classroom. Most elementary schools in the Kansas City area today provide an iPad to each student to use for various activities, whether it be for flashcards, reading, math games, or a specific app. The consequence of using iPads is that they become a substitute for the method of learning that is best for children, which is sensory input. Taking away the form of learning that allows children to use a variety of their senses to understand and grasp the new concepts they are being taught would be detrimental at the elementary age. The increased amount of time children are spending on screens is not healthy and leading to several negative side effects. The use of iPads in elementary classrooms will not provide a better education to students, and for this reason should not be used.

Screens are everywhere these days. There are movie players in cars, TVs in diners, tablets at the table in some restaurants, and most of you, if not all, have a screen either in your pocket or backpack right now. Screens illuminate buildings, display advertisements along the interstate, can be found in almost any waiting room, and are never far from reach. There has never been a generation so immersed in technology as ours. Screen exposure starts when one is an infant. Phones have become a distraction a parent can place in front of their child to keep them quiet, to stop their crying or their complaints of boredom. It is like a mute button for their kids.  American children spend an average of 33-55 hours per week on screens, that is an average of almost 5-8 hours per day, whether it be on a smartphone, television, or video games. This more than doubles the recommended amount of time for young children by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This should concern all teachers, doctors, and parents. Children are already exceeding screen time recommendations outside of the classroom, schools should not be adding to that. It is more beneficial for the student not to have any screen time in the classroom than what an iPad can teach them. The purpose of this paper is to show that the negative effects of using iPads outweigh the good that they bring, therefore iPads should not be used in the elementary classroom.

Since the culture is immersed in technology there is a strong argument that children should be trained in the classroom on how to use it. They will certainly use technology outside of school so it is an important skill that they should be familiar with. By implementing iPads among students they will be familiarized with the technology, how to use it, and know how to navigate certain apps. Having iPads in the classroom will better prepare children for their future and life outside of school in the twenty-first century. 

While this argument is one of my opponent’s strongest it did not persuade my thinking for the following reasons. Children do not need screen time in the classroom; they are getting plenty outside of it. Children are fast learners who have quickly picked up on how to use technology. They spend hours a week on smartphones, tablets, televisions, and many other types of screens. If they are handed their mother’s iPhone they know how to use it. They understand how to unlock the phone, navigate through apps, adjust the volume, make the screen brighter, and many other features. Children are often more knowledgeable in how to operate technology than their elders, whether it be their parents or grandparents. There is no need for them to use iPads in the classroom so that they may be familiar with the technology, they either already are, or learn it so quickly it is not worth implementing. 

In addition, too much time on a screen can be harmful to a child’s health. Using iPads in the classroom raises the amount of time the children are on a screen a day, by various amounts. Anderson claims, 

When high screen time is combined with low levels of active play it raises questions about how young children are spending their time, and the impact this may have on their development and ultimately the health of our society. Our analyses make clear the potential for all segments of the population of 4 to 11 year old children in the US to become more active and less sedentary.

Children are spending less time being active, running around, getting fresh air, or playing active games, instead they are spending more and more time sitting down staring at screens. As of now, it is entirely up to the teacher to decide how much they want to use iPads in their classroom, some teachers choose not to use them at all, some only an hour a day, and others longer. Teachers all over have different views on how long or for what activities the devices should be used for, so there is not a consistent amount of time across all classrooms or even age groups, but almost every classroom with iPads will use them at least once a day. Children should not be wasting time at school on a screen. 

One of the arguments supporting the implementation of iPads in the classroom is the fact that children are able to focus better using iPads. When children are allowed to use the screens for schoolwork such as putting together a slideshow, they are able to focus well, stay on task, and there is less side chatter. A study conducted examining the use of iPads in the classroom found that the iPads did improve the children’s focus.

A final way that the instruction was supported was through the high level of student interest in the response tasks completed with the iPads. We observed the students spending considerable time designing unique responses to text and discussing their work with their peers . . . Ms West noted an increased level of student interest and stated that she was “amazed at the duration of their attention and level of engagement with the task.” She also noted that she believed there was less off-task behaviour than usual.

In this particular classroom the teacher was able to see a significant difference in the attention span of her students when they were and were not using the iPads. Every teacher wants their children to focus. There are constantly new gadgets coming out advertised to aid in this respect such as fidget spinners and cubes or bouncy chairs because companies know that student attention is vital in the classroom. iPads seem to be a device that can engage students efficiently and raise attention spans in the classroom. 

However, those against iPads in the classroom do not agree on the previous argument, saying looks can be deceiving. If one were to read through the study conducted above it would be easy to assume that the iPads are indeed gifted with the ability to raise focus or consecration, but look deeper. A kindergarten teacher I interviewed said that

 it helps kids pay attention to learn how to sit and attend to a conversation, be a part of a group, but when they are on screens it is immediate, fast input all the time. The images are constantly changing. Have you ever seen how a little kid will watch something and just be so zoned in that it seems like they can focus really well? Well they are looking at a screen, but the images are changing constantly, so they are not really showing a long amount of focus, things are changing every second. In a classroom with no technology children get used to having the stamina for the concentration needed to be able to sit and attend to something that isn’t constantly changing all the time, they learn to focus.

Children are able to appear like they are focusing so well on a screen because what they are focusing on is constantly changing. If children are doing math facts on a screen they may have a fun theme with each set of facts, so 2+2 will have a cute elephant in the top corner, or 3+5 may have giraffes hugging each other. After each tap the image the brain is looking at changes on the screen, whereas on paper the image is still and the same. Therefore comparing a child’s ability to focus on a screen rather than on paper is not fair. On the screen the child hardly has to focus because the image is constantly changing. With children being constantly surrounded by screens at home, in the car, at school, and even in waiting rooms the reverse effect is actually happening. Instead of attention spans growing, they are shrinking. Children today are growing more and more impatient, they do not know how to be still, or not have their brain quickly processing images. They are not able to focus for long amounts of time because they were not taught how to; they are being taught using tools that shorten the length they are able to pay attention to something well. 

In addition to lowering attention spans, iPads can be a distraction to students instead of a learning tool. As with all technology, there are so many different ways for it to be used as a distraction instead of for its purpose. One of the biggest struggles teachers expressed experiencing when trying to use iPads in the classroom was the children not doing what they have been asked to do on the devices. A second grade student admitted in an interview that she and her friends often get distracted on other apps such as the camera app instead of doing what their teacher has asked them to do. One of the greatest benefits that teachers listed for them not using iPads in their classroom was that they never end up being a crutch or a distraction. A lot of time can be saved by not using iPads. 

Our culture is an instant gratification culture. If individuals want something, they immediately need it. The use of technology contributes to this problem. People have no patience, and no time to do anything that is not benefiting themselves. The use of iPads in the classroom is only making this issue worse. Using iPads replace some of the physical interactions that take place in the classroom between students, and it individualizes the student’s work and pace, which has an opportunity to be good but also has major negative effects. In a screen-free classroom the class is all engaged together, the teacher can lead them through a word problem on the board and call on specific students to answer questions or parts of the problem. During this, the whole class gets to sit and patiently wait for their classmate to think through the question that was asked and come up with an answer. Through this exercise, the children are learning how to be patient with one another and not blurt out the answer even if they know it. They learn how to show grace to each other, how to work as a class, and how not to be instantly gratified. If each student was individualized one to one on their own iPads critical skills would not be learned. Those who are quicker learners may be able to speed ahead, but in the future they are not going to know how to deal with someone who does not move as quickly as they do. This may even be seen in the culture already today. 

Children learn best by using sensory input, but the iPads take this away. Instead of a child putting together a puzzle using their hands, getting to feel each piece, getting to spread the pieces out, possibly work with others as a team, and examine all they have, the iPad makes it all virtual. To do a puzzle on the iPad they just drag with their finger. If the piece does not fit they simply tap on a different spot or ask the app for a hint on where it goes. So much learning and brain processing is being missed when a child does a puzzle on the screen. Paper and pencil has been the preferred method of learning for centuries and for good reason. Using a pencil or crayon on paper or chalk on a chalkboard produces what is called the drag effect, something one will not get using a marker on a whiteboard or your finger on a screen. Using something with drag is using sensory input. It is creating pathways in the brain. If one were to compare writing the phonogram “a” on a chalkboard to writing it on a screen, they would notice how much slower they must write on the chalkboard, how much they have to think about what they are doing, starting in the brain all the way down the arm and into every muscle working in the hand. Whereas when they write the same phonogram on the iPad screen, they hardly have to think about what they are doing because the movement is so much faster. There is little to no drag as one slides the finger across the screen, nothing like the pull that was felt using the chalk. The action of writing on the screen is less sensory, not much thought has to be put into it. One does not feel it as much. One will not retain it as long, it is lacking the drag. 

iPads do, however, carry with them many positive benefits. One of the helpful ways they can be used is with struggling students in the classroom says second grade teacher Stephanie Page. She noted that with strong readers she does not notice a difference in whether they do their work using the iPads or on paper, but with the struggling readers in her class it makes a world of a difference for them to be able to hear their assignment or book read to them or to be able to watch a video on the topic they are struggling to understand. iPads give children so much information at their fingertips. A common project done in second grade is an animal research project. Children choose an animal, research it, write facts down, and make either a book or presentation about the animal. iPads have made the research aspect of the project much easier and accessible to all students, claims the second grade teacher. She no longer has to bring in boxes of books from the library or check out and wheel in the computer cart for children to read about their animal. Now she can direct each student to a particular site or app on their own iPad which has all the animal facts they need to know together in one place. It saves both the student and teacher time, and time is very valuable in the classroom. A downside the teacher did note was how big of a distraction it can be when the students are making their animal presentations on the iPads. They get so distracted by the changes they can make to their letters, by changing the font size, making them bold, or italicized, changing their colors, and many other features the iPad offers; this part is where more time is wasted. Using the screens in the classroom can easily become a distraction, and it is up to the teacher to carefully judge when the screens would be helpful, beneficial tools and when it would be better for them not to be used at all. 

The great minds of the world were all educated in the same manner. They all read the same books, learned the same way of writing, and used no screens. The world then decided to change the manner it taught its students, and education has never been as good as it was. Education in America is broken and needs to be repaired, those in power and in the schools know this. They are looking left and right for something new that will fix the brokenness. The newest thing that they have found is iPads; without hardly any data supporting the screens, they were showing up in every public classroom. There was no data of them enriching education, no proof that they would help at all, but it was a chance and they were desperate enough to spend millions of dollars on the screens if there was a chance they could mend the broken system of education. The problem is that it is not a new thing that is needed among the schools, it is an old thing. If all the greatest minds of history were taught in the same way, and their brilliance is easy to see, why would one not want to teach the way they were taught? iPads are a risky investment the schools have purchased, hoping something good will come of them, but there is no guarantee. This is one of the weakest arguments in my paper, but I choose to still include it because it is a reminder of why those in power choose to implement iPads. 

Another downside of adding to the abundance of technology in a child’s life can be that the iPad becomes what is thinking for the child. Children can rely too heavily on screens or make them such a crutch that screens begin to be what is thinking for the child instead of the child thinking for himself. For example, students are not taught from the beginning of their school career to use calculators for every math problem they encounter. They spend elementary school learning the math processes, how numbers are able to be added or multiplied together, or how to divide fractions. Then, once the skills have been mastered by the students and practiced over and over again they are allowed to use calculators for the math tasks they know so well to do. The calculator is a tool that helps them, but they know how to perform the operation without one as well. In the same way children should not be allowed to use iPads for skills they are capable of mastering but have not done so yet. If a student skips learning how to add numbers themself and just goes straight to plugging it into their calculator, then the calculator becomes a crutch and the device thinking for the student. Not only can technology become a crutch to the students, it can become their imagination. Clarkson says, 

And then there is technology. However useful technology may be as a tool, however present in society, it is not a neutral force in the life of a child. When children learn early in their lives to depend on technology for entertainment and information, they lose the habit of imagination. Trained from an early age to turn to any available screen for entertainment, learning, or even comfort, they become unused to imagining something for themselves. Why bother imagining, when a machine provides you with a constant stream of images?

Children should have an active imagination filled with funny thoughts, make-believe creatures, and curious questions. Sadly, the screens they spend so much of their time on begin to be their imagination, they are only able to imagine what they see on the screen in front of them. Clarkson also argues,

I’ll risk saying it again: we are in danger of raising a generation of children dependent upon media and technology to think or imagine for them. Instead of creating a new world within their own thought, a new story, or a fresh invention, they watch the ones on TV. Instead of forming an independent conclusion about any idea they encounter (educational or cultural), they become conditioned to accept the opinion of the faces that flash across their many screens.

Children are losing the ability to think and imagine for themselves. These are crucial skills that all children must develop for themselves and iPads are worsening this problem. 

To conclude, it is important for parents, educators, and those in political power to fully understand the harm and uselessness of using iPads in the elementary classroom. Children are on screens too much. Using iPads in the classroom will only make the issue of too much screen time worse. If screens are used in the classroom it will not lessen their use at home but may even add to it. Children do not learn or focus better when using iPads in the classroom, in fact, it is making attention spans shorter, and only growing the instant gratification culture. If iPads are continued to be used in the classroom it will only increase the problem of the screen being the device that thinks for the child instead of the child’s mind itself. Children will lose their imagination. iPads are still fairly new and are not the quick answer governor officials are looking for to solve America’s educational problem. For students to learn best, not be overrun by too much screen time, and develop their full character to be the best they can be, iPads must not be used in elementary classrooms. Thank you. 


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