Paper notebooks are still a requirement in schools. But devices like iPads are becoming increasingly more popular in classrooms. In the second half of the WUIS series on technology and teaching, Rachel Otwell visits elementary schools in Springfield’s District 186 to see how the electronic tablets are becoming a common part of the school day:
REAVY: “OK, so go ahead and open up your email to ‘Snakes Quiz’…”
Melissa Reavy is a fifth grade teacher at Harvard Park Elementary School. Her students are settling into their desks, where their iPads in their bright red protective covers await them. The tablets are the size of a small book, though thinner. They are operated completely by touch. Students use them to type, draw and even take tests…
REAVY: “I made up a quiz, based on, we had a snake day last week … they can get on here online and answer the questions on there and it will grade it for me and just send (the answers) to me.”
After the quiz, the class moves from their desks to an area on the floor.
REAVY: “I’m going to have everyone do a self-check and make sure iPads are asleep, face down so we’re not tempted to touch them….”
Then as Reavy teaches about angles the iPads are back in action and students are able to use them draw shapes and rotate them as they follow along with their teacher.
District 186 has roughly 3,000 iPads that are used by students as well as teachers. The district bought them with the help of some grants. Earlier this year there was talk of starting every freshman in the district with an iPad of their own – they would pay monthly installments to keep them after graduation. That plan however has been put on hold.
It’s far from a radical idea, though.
Chicago Public Schools has one of the largest iPad programs in the nation. Kristin Ziemke is a first grade teacher there. Her students have used them to write in blogs, create movies, and communicate with fellow students from across the world. She says parents have shown support for the use of the tablets and are surprised by how tech savvy their young children are. Ziemke says that’s because it’s:
ZIEMKE: “Not something where their kid is zoning out and watching a cartoon on a personalized device at school for 6 or 7 hours, but it’s something where they’re having to use a variety of different skills and new tools.”
For Chicago, funding the iPads has been tricky. Parents paying and the use of grants have largely made the implementation of the iPads possible. Ziemke says students learn what resources to trust and what websites to avoid. Most school districts already have firewalls that keep students from going to restricted sites like Facebook.
Karen Thompson is a technology instructor for Springfield public schools. She says there’s a learning curve on the iPads for teachers as well as students.
THOMPSON: “When teachers begin to use iPads you look for what are your classroom routines? What are your substitutions? What are the things that you can use the iPads for that are a lot like paper and pencil … that they’re very comfortable with.”
At Enos Elementary, Jena Uptmore is having her third grade students do a type of book report, only in this case:
UPTMORE: “They are making a Comic Life, they are choosing their favorite book they’ve read this year in class … They’re going to tell their viewer, kind of like a brochure, why they like it…”
Students are using pictures and filling in information with text. Joseph Graham he says he looks forward to using the iPad at school:
GRAHAM: “There’s more stuff to learn about. You can read books on here, do math drills, do science … there’s games on it – and it doesn’t seem like you’re learning, but you are.”
His favorite part about the technology? Playing a game called Cash Cow, aimed at teaching how to count money. It’s something he gets to do occasionally as a treat for completing assignments.
UPTMORE: “I think their critical thinking skills are improved … they’re constantly helping each other they have to figure out their problems on their own … students will get up and help other students, and I think that helps … They work on their math they email me their guided reading… I think it helps with everything we do in the class.”
While there are those who will argue the best tools for learning are limited to books, pen, and paper – educators are finding tools like iPads can be used in ways that enhance student’s comprehension of the standard core subjects, as well as the technology their lives will be increasingly surrounded by.