Sunday, April 24, 2011

Relevant Learning: Angry Birds in the Kindergarten Classroom

I had the opportunity to visit Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland during my spring break.  They were the first school in the world to have 1:1 iPad implementation, and I was impressed with their technology integration and teaching theories.  They do not view technology as something to be taught in isolation but rather as a tool within the context of learning.  Problem-based learning is also used daily.  Their teaching/learning theories lined up with mine, but more importantly, they have moved their teaching theories and models into the practical realm of real student learning.  (More on this in future posts as I continue to process what I saw and learned at the school.)

The first classroom I visited was Mrs. Speirs' kindergarten classroom, which was rich with literacy and math displays and students actively engaged in a writing exercise.  One of the displays that eventually caught my eye was an Angry Birds one, which was located right next to a creative display of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  I had to ask Mrs. Speirs how she could possibly use Angry Birds with kindergarten students.  She said, "I've incorporated Angry Birds into my math lesson in terms of positional language, so I'm speaking about above and below, left and right, top and bottom, biggest and smallest and things like that."  Mrs. Speirs' display of an angry birds scene (which I hope to post after extracting from a video) had "positional language" words posted for student instruction and reference.

The students are not given the opportunity to play angry birds during class time, but they could choose it as an activity for free time, and what Mrs. Speirs noticed was that students were actually problem-solving with each other as they encountered difficulties reaching another level, discussing ideas of how to move to the next level, as well as exploring how they could assist each other.  All this during kindergarten "free-time."  Was Angry Birds the only iPad app that the students were using for learning?  Definitely not.  In fact, it is one of the minor ones, but I think the teacher is using what is relevant to students (a popular game) and shaping that into a learning experience at a level that kindergarten students can understand.  (For a list of iPad apps that are used in the kindergarten classroom at Cedars, check out Fraser Speirs' blog.  It's from October, so it's a little dated, but if I receive permission, I'll also post a list that Mr. Speirs recently sent me.)

As a Scottish cultural side note--which has nothing to do with student learning, except my own.....Mrs. Speirs had a stuffed Angry Bird in the classroom as well as an Angry Birds iPad cover.  When I asked where she got them, she said Amazon.  Yes, they do buy from Amazon in Britain as often as we do in the States.  Also, in a country that has what I believe to be the best chocolate in the world, the Scottish teachers were devouring American peanut butter and pretzel M&M's that one of their colleagues had brought back from the States.  I was astonished!  If you ever have a chance to visit Cedars School of Excellence--which I highly recommend that you do--go armed with an arsenal of pretzel and peanut butter M&M's.  I imagine you'll be their colleague and friend for life ;-) 

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