More classes doling out iPads to students
In a second-grade classroom inside Sugar Creek Elementary School, 17 students, each with an iPad in hand, take turns aiming the device’s built-in camera at an interactive whiteboard.
Each snaps a photo of the whiteboard’s digital display of a single paragraph riddled with 11 grammatical errors. Then they file back to their seats and, working in pairs, touch the iPad’s screen to highlight and fix the mistakes.
After a few minutes, students regroup on a circular rug, where their teacher, Margaret Fuguitt, calls on volunteers to identify the errors.
Welcome to second grade, 2013 style.
Since last fall, several classrooms in Verona have doled out iPad tablet computers to each student, often spending tens of thousands of dollars to do so.
The experiment, dubbed “one-to-one” classrooms, is a growing educational trend that proponents say allows students to work at their own pace, reduces discipline problems, raises test scores and helps educators tackle the tough task of teaching kids from a wide variety of academic backgrounds.
“Teachers are better teachers and kids are better learners,” said Todd Brunner, principal at Sugar Creek, which last fall became the first Verona school to try one-to-one classrooms. “This is the direction we want to go.”
Relying mostly on a one-year budget boost last year, Sugar Creek officials spent more than $50,000 last spring to purchase iPads for four second-grade classes and one fifth-grade class. Later this month, two more third-grade classes will join them.
This semester, Country View Elementary jumped into the trend, too. Like Sugar Creek, the school has purchased about 100 iPads, with most funding coming from a one-year budget increase set aside for an extra class that later didn’t materialize when enrollment stayed flat last fall.
A little over a month ago, two Country View classes – one first-grade and one fourth-grade – assigned every student an iPad. Another mixed-age class of 35 second- and third-graders shares 18 iPads. Extra tablets are available for classes to check out, too, said principal Michelle Nummerdor.
Fun to use
During visits to three classrooms at Sugar Creek last Friday, one fifth-grader in Patty Hook’s class showed how she pulled information about explorer Vasco de Gama off the Internet to write up a short biography using her iPad.
Her classmate, Eliot Popkewitz, displayed photos and descriptions outlining each step of a science experiment involving citric acid. Using the touch screen, he then showed off a persuasive essay he wrote about the need to improve cafeteria food.
Popkewitz echoed what several teachers said was a benefit from the iPads. Typing and easy access to spell-checking tools and the Internet for research encouraged him to extend his essay.
“I can type faster than I can write,” he said. “You can go from the Internet right to your notes.”
Hook and other teachers said kids are writing more and improving their literacy skills in the process.
Fuguitt said kids are also more motivated to do what used to be considered “drudge work,” such as practicing vocabulary or basic math drills, because those tasks are considered “fun” when using their iPads.
In addition, several teachers said the tablets help them respond to a central dilemma in education: When one kid takes a minute to finish an assignment that takes another child one hour, what do you do?
With iPads, kids who complete assignments can simply open math or reading apps that offer challenges to match the child’s skill level. Those apps are often tied to state or local curriculum standards, too.
That function is a delight to Amy Cartwright, who teaches a bilingual second-grade class for native Spanish speakers.
Because students can – and want to – work independently with their iPads, she has more time to work with specific kids who need her help.
“I can focus with one person or two or three for a half an hour if I need to,” she said. “That was unheard of before. … Classroom management is a snap, now.”
The iPads also let her students listen to stories in English as they read along, an exercise that she says can greatly improve their fluency. Last year, she taught in a class with 28 kids that shared three computers. Each student might listen to stories once a week. Now they can do so multiple times a day.
That change alone has created results, she said. With more than three months left in the school year, almost all of her students have already hit reading proficiency benchmarks.
“I love it,” she said.
‘More than a fad’
While Country View and Sugar Creek are the first local schools to move to one-to-one classrooms, they might not be the last. Other schools are ramping up the number of mobile computing devices – be they tablets or laptops – for kids, too.
Glacier Edge Elementary, for example, has just over 40 iPads that have been purchased with school funds and federal grants aimed at schools with high percentages of low-income students, principal Theresa Taylor said. The devices are used “all day, every day,” she said.
Relying in part on donations and grants, Stoner Prairie Elementary School has roughly doubled its stockpile of iPads and laptops in the past year, and last month they purchased 37 Google Chromebooks – relatively inexpensive laptops that boot up in eight seconds, store everything online and rely on apps, rather than software that requires installations or updates.
So far, Stoner Prairie’s goal is to steadily increase access to the devices for all students. But, principal Chris Olson said, if the school had more funding, it would likely try out one-to-one computing within a year, perhaps using tablets or Chromebooks.
“I can’t say that we have it written down on paper anywhere that this is our goal, to be one-to-one, but I know that’s where we are moving,” Olson said. “Every school in the district is working on this.”
Olson, Brunner and others agree that a lack of funding is the biggest barrier to expanding one-to-one classrooms. And that’s not likely to change, as districts everywhere struggle to keep up with technology costs.
Brunner said purchasing iPads – which cost roughly $500 each – wasn’t easy.
Sugar Creek leaders debated whether to invest their one-time extra funding into other supplies or educational assistants. With one-to-one classrooms, however, they saw a chance to fundamentally improve education by customizing it for each student, he said. And he maintains it’s the school’s goal to expand it gradually to grades 1-5.
Participating Sugar Creek teachers also needed extra training over the summer and into the school year, and this winter they visited schools in southeastern Wisconsin that use one-to-one, too, he added.
Those teachers made a “huge commitment” to learn how best to use the devices in the classroom, Brunner said.
“The idea is, if we’re going to put $12,000 worth of technology in your classroom, it’s not just going to sit there,” he said.
Brunner cites studies by the International Society for Technology and Education that says schools that use one-to-one properly report decreases in behavior issues and higher test scores.
Asked if iPads are a fad, he says no. Compared to most laptops or computers, they are cheaper, more mobile and easier to use, making them good “tools” for kids.
“The novelty of computers hasn’t worn off,” he said. “I think this is more than just a fad.”