iPads in class energize kids as teachers test how to use them
posted by: Guest Blogger
For 10-year-old Kaitlyn Chin, the first few weeks of school came packed with holidaylike anticipation — especially when the fourth-grader at Legacy Academy in Elizabeth saw boxes delivered to the building.
“I would always hope they were the iPads,” she says.
And finally, they arrived — a wave of tablet devices that, combined with other Apple technology, created a schoolwide learning system based largely on the second-generation iPad2.
“The first day we could bring them home, I was up all night,” recalls Kaitlyn. “I learned so many things, it really shocked me.”
Well into a first, full year of experimentation, many educators also describe a steep learning curve with their introduction to the popular touch-screen tablet. Students use the $600 devices to read novels, shoot videos, conduct research, hone their writing skills and bring new enthusiasm to once-tedious drills on educational basics.
Legacy even credits the new technology for an increase in enrollment.
But the iPad and its growing array of applications remain in their infancy — the device was introduced only two years ago — and it has no significant track record as an educational tool. Some schools are testing iPads alongside PC-based technology to see whether there’s an appreciable difference, or whether the buzz is mostly marketing hype.
But some Colorado educators already note a change in classroom culture, whether by employing the devices piecemeal or all-out on a one-to-one, take-home basis.
“We’re having tremendous success — not without pitfalls — but it’s been a wonderful adventure,” says Jason Cross, principal of Legacy Academy, a K-8 charter that issued an iPad to each student. “We’re finding new things we can do with the technology every single day.”
Teachers are moving ahead by trial and error and by experimenting with various apps. Legacy has loaded anywhere from 80 to 130 on its machines. And months after the tablets’ introduction, students still see them as shiny objects that, not incidentally, bring a new dimension to academia.
“I know it’s working, because when I go into classrooms and look at learning, I see a higher level of engagement than I’ve ever seen as a teacher or administrator,” says Manitou Springs Middle School principal Chris Burr, whose district is phasing in the devices. “They’re more willing to write, to share, to critically think, to create.”
Still, students have had to learn to think of the iPads primarily as a learning tool, not a toy. Teachers and administrators have developed new strategies to deal with some apps’ inherent distractions. And, perhaps most significantly, the use of iPads as a take-home device has raised questions about Internet safety: Who’s responsible for a student’s online behavior once they leave school?
Legacy’s choice to fully embrace iPads was part of its larger decision last spring to go all-Apple and earn designation as the state’s only iSchool.
In the midst of budget cuts, the school found financing for the technology makeover from Apple and so far doesn’t charge parents any additional fee. Enrollment has grown from fewer than 300 — and on the decline — to 448, providing a significant per-pupil funding boost.
The school, which subscribes to Core Knowledge principles, has added technology to the mix by integrating basic computer code concepts as early as kindergarten, where students learn if-then conditional statements.
“By the time they’re hitting middle school, we want to see them write basic software code,” Cross says. “We want to make computer science part of our core curriculum.”
And like other educators, Cross looks at the iPad technology as a way to differentiate instruction — to help students learn at their own pace and “break away from the assembly-line model.”
In Pam Landrum’s third-grade math class, student Nathaniel Dahlen plows through 100 timed, single-digit addition problems on his touch screen. The application has a race car motif, adding a sense of urgency — and fun — to the exercise.
But other students are doing subtraction, or multiplication or division — working on whatever they need at their own pace. They e-mail their results to Landrum, who charts their progress.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard them say, ‘Oh, darn, we’ve got to do math drills,’ ” she says.
Wall-to-wall technology finds kids creating videos in the hallway, working on blogs in the classroom and — as a reward for outstanding work — playing some games like the popular Angry Birds.
Technology even attaches itself to the walls: Next to a painting of George Washington in the school’s entry, a small square displays a variation of a bar code that students scan with their iPads to conjure a website full of information.
“The focus still needs to be on instruction,” Cross says. “Core Knowledge drives the end results. Planning doesn’t go away. But now we have tools that we never had before.”
Denver’s Grant Beacon Middle School won a grant to purchase 150 iPads that stay in eighth-grade core curriculum classrooms with a two-fold purpose: to introduce new ways of doing things and to free up existing computers for younger students at a school short on technology.
Language arts teacher Jacob Benezra, who helped write the grant that brought the iPads to his school, warms up his students with a couple of quick games of “Hangman Genius.” The animated app prompts kids to determine which letters fill in the blanks to spell words that appear with high frequency on the SAT exam.
Julie Rivera-Macias, 13, figures out “imperceptible” before her cartoon character swings from the gallows. She touches the word on her screen and the definition appears. The class picks up two new vocabulary words each day this way, and Benezra has them incorporate the new terms into the week’s writing exercises.
And by the way, class attendance is up since the introduction of iPads.
“Coincidence or causality? I’m not sure,” Benezra says. “But there’s a lot of energy surrounding them.”
Principal Alex Magaña, who estimates that less than half of his students have access to this kind of technology at home, figures that his teachers still need time to figure out which applications work. He hopes that in the next two months, students will be able to carry the iPad with them the entire school day, so they can store notes and other work right on the device, instead of checking out a different one in each class.
“It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary,” he says. “All the kids are actively engaged. If we want to level that playing field, we’ve got to get them the technology.”
In Manitou Springs School District 14, administrators ordered 600 iPads — one for each student in grades five through eight plus a few classroom sets for the high school, which probably will get more tablets next year.
Lisette Casey, the technology integration specialist, heard rumblings that middle-schoolers would be too hard on the devices and that they’d be an easy target for thieves. But she says fewer than 20 have cracked and none have been stolen — a loss rate about half of what other similar programs had experienced. Students buy into a $50 insurance plan to cover damage.
Still, the district had concerns. Fears that with access to the Internet, kids might engage in more cyberbullying proved unfounded, and behavior in general was better than expected. Attendant distractions from tools such as e-mail or YouTube or Angry Birds did surface — particularly with e-mail.
Teachers regrouped and addressed the distractions by reinforcing strategies to keep students engaged with the academic uses of the tablets.
“I think that was a little bit of a growing pain,” Casey says. “But as teachers grow accustomed to using the iPads, it doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of conversations.”
Among the most striking shifts has been the way certain applications have allowed students who struggle with putting thoughts down on paper to become surprisingly productive. In particular, voice-to-text apps have allowed kids with learning disabilities or even physical disabilities to take that first step of getting ideas into written form.
“They still have to go in and edit the text, organize it and look at word choice,” Casey says. “But just the ability to do that on a device easily and quickly allows everybody to be these writers you didn’t think they were.”
Home use grows
Tablets and e-readers were popular holiday gifts, so much so that the number of people who own them nearly doubled between mid-December and January, a study finds. A report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, released Monday, found that 29 percent of Americans owned at least one tablet or e-reader as of the beginning of this month. That’s up from 18 percent in December. The percentage of people who own a tablet jumped to 19 from 10 between mid-December and early January.
The Associated Press