Local schools turn iPads into the next teaching tool
By Laura Barnhardt Cech
It almost sounds like a high school senior’s idea — along with Friday skip days and free vending machine snacks —”iPads for everyone” in schools!
But more and more administrators and teachers at area schools are proposing bringing iPads, the popular tablet electronics into the classroom.
The hope is to add multi-media elements to lessons, equip students with technology they’ll use in college, and lighten backpacks.
“We hope the iPads will become personal learning devices,” says Julia Maxey, instructional technology coordinator and English teacher at Severn School.
“Eventually, they’ll be replacing binders, notepads, and, one day, textbooks.”
iPads replace textbooks
Severn School in Severna Park is one of several local schools that will be distributing iPads to each student this fall. At the Key School in Annapolis, all incoming freshman will receive iPads.
Earlier this year, 137 eighth-graders at Chesapeake Math and IT Academy, a public charter school in Laurel, received iPads to use for the rest of the year. And 120 iPads are used by students in sixth and seventh grades at Meade Middle School in Anne Arundel County as part of a program that administrators are working to expand to all students.
“The applications are endless,” says Beth Shaken, a school performance coach at Meade.
Teachers particularly like that many iPad educational apps have beginning, intermediate and advanced text levels. It allows them to tailor content to the students’ needs. “Which is what education is all about these days,” Shaken says.
The educational apps — literally hundreds of thousands of them — are one of several advantages that iPads have over laptops, according to teachers and students, who also like that they are portable and versatile.
“You can carry iPads anywhere,” says Meade Middle School sixth grader Star Scott. “You can project what you’re doing on a large screen… You can make podcasts.”
Students also say they help with organization. There’s no more lost homework. It’s on the iPad.
“You don’t have to worry about e-mailing your work to yourself, or printing it and losing it,” says Julian Bartholomee, a sophomore at Severn School from Pasadena.
Bartholomee uses his iPad to watch movies, play games and read books. But, mostly, he says, he uses it for schoolwork.
At the Key School, administrators and teachers also liked that iPads don’t have screens that block eye contact the way laptops do. “We don’t want anything to get in the way of face to face discussion,” Meyerson says.
The Key School already has mobile iPad carts that are shared by classes. During a lesson on the civil war, humanities teacher Laurel Lennon found them to be helpful when students were looking at photographs at the National Archives. “You could zoom in and see the details,” she says. “The resolution was so great.”
In preparation for next year’s switch, Severn School teachers have been experimenting with iPads, Maxey says. In science, they’ll be used with plug-in probes to analyze the atmosphere and water quality, to create charts and diagrams and, with apps, to simulate some labs. In English class, they’ll be used to highlight text, edit as a group and download books. In history and art, they’ll give instant access to source materials. However, Maxey says they won’t replace all science experiments, field trips and sculpture.
“It’s to enhance what we do,” she says. “It’s not everything we do.”
Jane Zanger, a Key School humanities teacher, agrees it’s just a tool. Teachers should develop their lesson plans, thinking about what they want to accomplish, and then ask if there is a way technology can help, Zanger says.
Downloading textbooks to an iPad could eventually be a cost-saver for schools, but many administrators have found the digital textbooks currently available to be lacking.
“We’re watching the textbook industry closely,” says Marilyn Meyerson, Library and Technology Department Head at the Key School.
While the school likes the idea of replacing heavy textbooks that eventually become outdated, Meyerson says they also want textbooks that are an interactive experience.
So, for now, they’re waiting.
At a school like Meade Middle, where not all students have access to the Internet at home, iPads allow teachers to download videos and other resources for their students and parents, principal William Goodman says.
“It levels the playing field,” he says.
iCost and logistics
The addition of iPads doesn’t come cheap. They’re a minimum of $500 a piece which schools are paying for with discretionary funds, fundraising, grants and tuition increases. And there are many logistics as well: schools must have extensive wifi networks, charging stations and superior Internet filters. There has to be a policy for lost and broken devices and places where they can be stored securely.
It also takes time to transition to using them. For many, typing on an iPad for long periods is uncomfortable. But, Bruce Schwartz, middle and upper school technology integrator at Key School, says schools that have purchased external keyboards for iPads find that students quickly abandon them. “Within a month’s time, they’re all typing on the iPads. They get used to it.”
Still, Schwartz says, the iPads aren’t meant to be used to type 10-page research papers. They’re for taking notes, writing short essays, scheduling assignments, and doing research.
“It extends the classroom experience,” he says. “It provides for in-the-moment, important research.”
A conversation in class might take a turn, says Schwartz. “That’s when we’ll pull out the iPads and say, ‘Let’s do some research.'”
The built-in camera and microphone also allow students to make videos and podcasts, and take photos.
At the Key School, iPads have been used in classrooms for several years, beginning with preschool students. Early literacy apps are especially great, Meyerson says. Students might think they’re just playing games, but they’re also learning words, letter recognition, phonics and more.
Inevitably, some older students will try to play non-educational games on their new devices during class. But, administrators say, it’s not that much different than kids who sneak out phones to play games or send text messages. If they didn’t have electronics, they’d be passing notes on folded pieces of paper, Maxey says.
“I honestly expect most of that will die down in a few weeks,” she says.
Maxey, Goodman and other administrators want students to experiment with iPads, becoming so proficient that eventually they can create their own applications.
“We believe we should prepare students for the future,” says Maxey. “This is the future.”