Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

One-on-One Technology in the Primary Classroom

There are a lot more iPads in the hands of kindergartners and primary grade students than there were a few years ago. Districts bought them to make online learning possible during the pandemic. They’re continuing to use them to engage children in learning in a time when they can’t share materials or move around. What comes next? Will our children ever let their iPads go – and should they?

Many say no. One-on-one technology – one specific type – can enhance education by helping teachers individualize the curriculum, facilitating classroom management, and promoting equity.

One thing the iPad has going for it is engagement. Kindergarten teachers sometimes bemoan that they set up centers with a wide variety of materials that they want their children exploring, but they find some habitually migrating to the computer area to watch other children play games. They love tech. One-on-one devices can maximize what they gain from their tech time (Key Take-Aways from a Year of Virtual Education).


Children don’t all have the same skills or the same outside class experiences. They don’t all learn at the same pace or have the same need for re-teaching. Yet they spend much of their day together in groups of 25 of so with one teacher who is in a custodial role as well as an educational one. Ideally, all students are engaged and appropriately challenged throughout the day. It’s quite a task, though: managing physical space and potential distractions while providing differentiated instruction for 25 learners. Here the iPad can help.

One of the advantages: individualization. Even before the pandemic, a number of schools were using one-on-one technology for personalized learning. In a sense, some were creating playlists for student learning. This doesn’t mean that students were spending all day in individualized activity or that all individualized activities involved an iPad. But the technology often played a key role.

Even if technology-assisted personalized learning isn’t a big part of the school day, it can be a valuable part. It can be scheduled into blocks of time. It can also replace traditional “What can I do when I am done?” options. There are spare moments in an individual’s day.

Teachers like children to be accountable for their use of their time when they are working with other groups or individuals. Technology can make this easier. Apps can help them keep track of what children are reading, how they’re using their time, and how they’re growing. Districts have invested in more than just hardware. They’ve also invested in child-friendly learning management platforms.

Online Manipulatives

One-on-one devices make it easier to use manipulatives on the fly, for example, to reinforce a math concept that the teacher discovers that some children have forgotten. The teacher can share a link to the appropriate online manipulatives, and the students can drag their own manipulatives on their screens. It is quicker than passing out materials to each child. There are fewer trouble spots. (Sometimes the class is short of materials for activities. Sometimes things get spilled.)

Children like to explore and manipulate their manipulatives. Some do find themselves with extra moments. What happen when children have those extra moments when working with physical manipulatives? For some, it can be tempting to make a stack of cubes and wear then on their fingers, creating a distraction to neighbors. Some children who wouldn’t wear a stack of Unifix cubes on their fingers in front of their regular teacher will do it for a substitute.

On-screen manipulatives may have options like changing the color or shape, offering a more “contained” way of exploring “what if…” questions.

It’s not that on-screen object manipulation should replace physical object manipulation. It can be a supplement; it makes it easier to incorporate a hands-on component when faced with real-world constraints.

The Equity Issue

One-on-one devices can increase equity, and not just by giving children a more equitable introduction to ed tech itself. Some classrooms have more children with unmet needs – more children whose needs are taking time from lesson continuity.

Classrooms are not all equal when it comes to students who are reactive: who strike out – or cry – when someone gets into their space or kicks their chair accidentally. They’re not equal in the supports they have in place. Even parent volunteers can make a difference. (Some kindergarten classrooms have cadres of confident moms who scoot over to the children when their energy goes high during cleanup before someone more reactive gets bonked with a pattern block).

Many children are entranced by the things they see around them in their classrooms: things that are cool, things that there are not quite enough of to go around. They’re watching who has more, who got a longer turn. Technology is a hot commodity. In a tech world, ‘things’ tend to be available in abundance, and those things are apps that can teach them and reach them. Children do need to learn how to take turns and share, but having more opportunity – or need – to share doesn’t put one at an advantage. After all, some children have long been going home to devices – and to their own iPad world of abundance.

Of course technology alone doesn’t revolutionize education. It depends on how it is used. Some teachers have had a lot of professional development (States with Online Teaching Endorsements to Add to a Teaching License); others, very little. Some districts have utilized staff members who have as a primary duty providing support for individuals.

In short, one on one technology doesn’t transform education, but, well-used, it can be a start.