WENATCHEE — The classrooms of tomorrow won’t need books, pencils or paper. Everything students need will be at their fingertips. Education will flow back and forth between teachers and students using electronic devices connected to the world web.
Tomorrow is today in Ray Birks’ classes at Foothills Middle School. Some 54 sixth grade students in two classes were given iPads at the start of this school year. Another 23 fifth graders at Columbia Elementary School also got the electronic tablets. Students use applications like Google Drive, Pages, Adobe Reader and Keynote to learn and do their homework.
Birks and his student teacher assistant Kelly Boyle use other programs to link the student work with instruction materials on a large screen in two-way interactive learning.
“This is definitely the way of the future. The old way won’t be here much longer,” said Birks, a language arts, social studies and technology teacher.
If that sounds a little shocking to adults raised on a steady scholastic diet of books, pencils and chalkboards, it’s a perfectly digestible change for youngsters reared on computers, YouTube, iPods and cell phones.
“It’s a lot more fun,” Olive Ryan, 11, said about using an iPad for school work.
“You have everything right here. You don’t need a bunch of books and binder,” added Sidnee Young, 12.
Birks said the school district came up with about $150,000 to fund the pilot program and purchase the Apple iPad 2 tablets, apps and other technology and pay for professional development. So far, the iPads have held up very well and will be used for new classes of fifth and sixth graders next year. A couple tablets have had to be replaced because they were dropped but upkeep has been minimal.
“I’ve always wanted to do a digital classroom,” said Birks. Kids are all for the change, he said, and a successful pilot program may win support of voters when levy funds are requested, likely in a couple of years.
Ron Brown, Wenatchee School District director of instruction technology and assessment, said the iPad pilot program will be expanded to eight classrooms and 150 students next school year. Students at higher grade levels are encouraged to use their own tablets if they have them. Widespread transition to a digital classroom is still a ways off, but the pilot program is off to a good start, Brown said.
“Eventually we’re going to see a greater shift to digital. We’re on the cusp now. It’s a high up-front cost, but they replace so many other things,” Brown said.
The iPads themselves are very easy to use. Some of the apps require time to learn, but students are finding they have a lot to offer with ways to add art, video, audio recording and slide shows to their homework.
“They work well with kids who don’t have the best reading and writing skills but find apps that give them new ways to express themselves. Some kids who would normally struggle excel because of the excitement generated by the iPad,” Brown said. “It’s exciting to find new ways to get the kids excited about learning.”
Students who don’t have Internet access at home are at a slight disadvantage, Brown admitted. “It’s mainly an inconvenience.” Teachers help kids download information from the Web while at school so they can complete their work offline or during school hours. The district is also looking at ways to provide Internet access to families that have students in the class, Brown said. All Internet use on the iPads, even after school, is filtered through the school system to make sure the tablets aren’t used to access unauthorized sites, he added.
Kids, of course, love to use the iPads to play games, so teachers direct them to games that make education fun. Students in Birks’ class competed with each other in one game by buying stocks in their favorite stores and businesses. They’re following the stock market to see who shows the most profit at the end of the week.
“It makes school easy to focus on instead of boring,” said Maycee Turner, 11.
“We can play games at break, but still learn at a steady pace,” said Alex Stewart, 12.
“We’re the guinea pigs,” Mario Murrillo, 11, said of the pilot program. Students love that they can personalize the iPads with stickers and take them home for homework and games. Murillo said he loves not having to run to the computer lab or library to look things up. Learning, he said, is definitely more fun.
“It’s not like the homework of old. You can’t blame the dog for eating it,” he said. “But you do have to remember to save it at the end of the day.”
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
To learn more about Wenatchee School District Personal Technology pilot program, check out the website: ipadpilot.tk