A review of the iPad in the classroom | OPINION

Last September we took a look at Marysville’s 10th Street School’s plan to convert to iPads as the central learning device. Every student would have one. Most parents equipped their kids with the devices and school fundraisers covered costs for the rest. It was a local experiment being played out in a scatter of schools across the map.

Tenth Street’s head teacher, Brian Churchill, explained the plan which was embraced  by the school’s enthusiastic core of teachers. As with any large-scale change, there were questions that only experience could answer. How would a mix of textbooks and iPads work out? How might issues arising from the district’s curriculum be addressed through iPad learning? Or more simply put, how would iPads interface with a traditional  curriculum?

A school year has passed. Much to my surprise, Brian, my super-enthusiastic exponent of iPad instruction, retired two weeks after our meeting in September. But his departure did nothing to dim the staff’s dedication to the project. My new source is James Delazzari, current team-leader who inherited Brian’s enthusiasm.

The 10th Street School is hard to describe. It has an off-site  part-time principal whose abilities are available when needed. It has James, designated team leader, who coordinates learning activities. It has a level of parental support that can’t be found in other area schools. And it has iPads for each student.

On the surface, 10th Street may seem like a Charter School. The National Alliance of Charter Schools says a Charter School should (a) adjust curriculum to meet student needs, (b) create a unique school culture and (c) develop next-generation learning models. So any pressure-group attempting to install a charter school in Marysville should understand that, for many practical purposes, we already have one for middle-schoolers.

What we thought to be a local experiment with iPads is actually Marysville’s response to a nation-wide movement. When a lightweight device can access more information than the Sno-Isle library offers, when it has the capacity to store and search far more than the content of every K-12 textbook, when it is a writing and communicating device, it deserves the hard look Marysville is giving it.

With one year of iPad experience under their belts, Marysville teachers, students and parents are voicing the same questions being asked across the map. Since some parents are providing their children with iPads, they wonder if the devices they buy will be different from leased devices provided by the district. The answer is, district devices are filtered to be squeaky-clean of potentially inappropriate sources.

The district holds classes to bring “technologically challenged” parents up to speed on iPads. They explain various insurance plans, discuss theft and security and offer counsel on which version to purchase.

The reach of these devices is such that no educator can, in good conscience, bar them from the educational scene. When setting them against traditional education you have a “That was then, this is now” situation. What was our future a few years ago has become our present reality. It’s why the YMCA recently offered a catch-up computer class for seniors.

The term, digital native, refers to young people who have grown up so steeped in computer lore that digitized electronics speak to their second nature.  It is the rest of us who drag our feet. It’s an unfortunate reality is that all that educational potential is, to a budgetary degree, controlled by a generation that, to some degree, fears it. For the kids’ sake, the technophobes among us need to get out of the way or get with it.

And now a hard look at what was accomplished in a year of iPads:  First, the business of keeping track: Drafts of students’ writings can be called up and compared. Assigned work for entire terms is easily accessed. Students, teachers and parents don’t have to wonder how a child is doing. It’s all there. Because assignments and their due-dates go anywhere the iPad goes, excuses like “I forgot” or “The dog at my homework” carry even less weight than they used to.

When a band teacher expects young musicians to master their parts, they record their efforts on iPads again and again until they get it right. Or not. The difference is that they have all the opportunity in the world to get it right instead of succeeding or failing one-time auditions.

Discipline problems diminish. As in band, students in other subjects have opportunities (plural) to get things right which does good things for self-esteem. This evens the playing-field for achievement. Visitors notice less boredom and that more students are on task, though it might not be the task of the moment. Reports from elsewhere indicate more flex in what a student might learn at any given time.

There’s so much more to report that you’d have to talk with the kids for a full rundown.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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