As Jennie Wilson Elementary School first-grade teacher Amy Golay sees it, the possibilities are endless when it comes to ways to utilize an iPad in a classroom.

Golay is one of nine teachers in Garden City USD 457 schools who are participating in one of the seven K-8 technology pilot programs in the district.

Layne Schiffelbein, USD 457 instructional technology coordinator, said the district has been looking for ways to integrate technology in K-8. At the beginning of the spring 2017 semester, the pilot programs were implemented in various classrooms in schools throughout the district to determine the best implementation model.

iPads

The third- and fourth-grade classes at Jennie Barker Elementary School use a classroom cart of new iPad 2’s in a "shared" iPad model, given that iPads have a larger storage at 32 GB. The iPad has a login screen for entering student credentials, which gives students access to their files. Each student uses the same iPad each day while in the pilot teacher’s room. 

Matt Horney, teacher for the pilot, said he loops with another teacher, so he teaches third- and fourth-grade math and social studies, as well as third-grade writing.

He said a majority of the work in his classes is done with the iPads. When there is work that is done on paper, Horney’s class will use various apps like Showbie, an online classroom app, that students access and work on digital documents that they are then able to upload for the teacher to evaluate. Another is SeeSaw, which is an app that helps students document their work. They take photos of their work on paper, which are uploaded to the apps.

Horney also is running Apple’s Classroom app, which provides the teacher with control over student iPads. Horney can lock the students’ iPads down, send websites, open apps, and see what is on the student’s screen.

“I hope this is the direction that the district moves in with technology,” Horney said. “We are preparing our students for future jobs that do not even exist yet, that will require the students to be fluent with technology.”

Elaine Ferrier’s fourth-grade class at Georgia Matthews Elementary School also uses the Classroom app with her pilot, which is the typical classroom cart model. Her class is using the iPad Air 2. One of the things Ferrier is using the iPads for is the iStation program, which is an adaptive, interactive computer-delivered program that has a comprehensive library of support materials allowing for individualized instruction. According to the company, more than 4 million students on 8,000 campuses are using them.

At Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, one group of sixth-grade students is assigned with an individual iPad Air 2 that is used in all content areas. They take the iPad with them to each teacher's class who also uses the Classroom app. Teachers for that pilot are Becca Burnfin, Deanne Graham and Kara Pomeroy. 

Burnfin said her students use the iPads to create products to demonstrate their learning. Some of the products her class has made include using an app to create a children's book about ancient Egypt and its relationship with ancient Nubia. Another app called Comic Book Creators allows students to make comic book strips.

"With the unlimited access to apps and the internet, my students are not only able to obtain more information and dig deep and make topics we cover more relevant, they have a choice on how they present the information," Burnfin said.

Burnfin and her team also created a folder called "Creation" within the iPad that contains multiple apps that students can use to present their learning.

"I couldn't think of a better way to move our students to where the education is going for their generation on innovation," Burnfin said.

Sarah Drubinskiy’s fifth- and sixth-grade students at Charles O. Stones Intermediate Center also use the typical classroom model, but with iPad 2’s. Her class is an assistive technology class, and students use the same iPad each day. All EngageNY (the district's math curriculum) modules are loaded into a Showbie account, another app Drubinskiy uses in her class is Class Craft, which helps encourages students to volunteer to give answers to math problems.

The biggest challenge Drubinskiy has faced with her pilot is time, she said.

“There are a lot of things I want to start trying, but I don’t have the time to implement it yet, so I’m looking at ways to do this next year,” she said. “But I love technology, so it’s worth it for me.”

When Golay was student-teaching in Wichita, the school she was teaching used technology for nearly everything, so she was happy to implement iPads in her classroom at the beginning of the semester.

Golay’s first-grade class at Jennie Wilson Elementary is using the iPad 2 in a traditional cart model setting. She said her class uses them nearly all day, every day. The only time they are not using them is when they are writing, she said.

On Thursday, her students were using their iPads to solve math problems through the Nearpod app, which is an interactive, online classroom.

Her class also uses the iPads for other subjects.

“I do a lot of pic collages to help my ELL (English Language Learner) kids help correlate the vocabulary word with a picture, and they really enjoy that because they get to personalize it and pick their own picture that works for them,” Golay said. “We do a lot of fluency where they get to record their own voice, and it scores it for them.”

One of the more exciting projects Golay’s class has been working on is research projects on different states in the U.S. Each student was given a different state to research and had to make a piece similar to a commercial ad about their state, Golay said.

Another app that is used in her class, Class Dojo, allows a parent to access their student's work at any time to see what they are working on. They can also leave comments on their child’s work if they desire.

“It’s completely safe, too, because no other parent can see a child’s work besides their parent,” Golay said.

Since implementing the pilot in her classroom, Golay’s paper copy count has gone down, she said, noting that she rarely uses paper copies in her classroom.

One of the challenges in using iPads in a first-grade class is when the students are typing, since they are not familiar with the keyboard yet. Golay said that can slow some things down, adding that it isn’t atypical because when learning something new, anyone will be slow at first.

“There’s really not anything that just sticks out to me (in terms of challenges), because in reality, they have this technology at home,” Golay said. “They’re very familiar with the iPads.”

Golay also believes it is important to teach children about technology at an early age.

“Our society is moving toward technology, so I think understanding the digital citizenship aspect of it at a young age is more beneficial than in high school or older, because when they are younger, you can mold their minds a lot easier.”

Golay noted that she would like to continue to use iPads in her classroom for years to come.

“It’s just been a lot of fun to see where the kids can take their own learning and not have to wait on me, they just kind of explore it themselves,” Golay said. “A lot of people believe first-graders can’t handle it, but they can. If you see some of the work they’re doing on their own, it’s amazing that 6- and 7-year-olds are creating these things.”

BYOD and other pilots

Like Golay, Sarah Harris’ fourth-grade class at Victor Ornelas Elementary School is nearly paperless, and her class does almost everything, including math and social studies work, with their devices.

On Thursday, her students were using their devices to identify states in the U.S and their capitals. They also used them to read a story book. Though a majority of students use iPads, the pilot program implemented in Harris’ class is a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program.

Harris was a little hesitant about having a BYOD pilot at first, but credits her tech savviness for the success of it in her classroom.

“If it had gone to a teacher who’s not as comfortable using different types of technology and being that problem solver, then it wouldn’t be as successful,” she said.

With the BYOD pilot, students bring their own devices from home, and devices have ranged from iPads or other brands of tablets, to laptops and smartphones.

Harris said for the students that do not have a device to use, the school will provide one. The district’s technology department provided Harris with nine iPads, but only seven or eight are used at a time, depending on whether students have forgotten their devices or other reasons, Harris said.

Harris said she had used iPads sparingly in her class before the pilot, but because of it, she has been able to step up their use.

Harris also uses Nearpod in her classroom.

“They can do lessons and go on virtual field trips,” Harris said as some of the features of Nearpod. “We weren’t able to do that before because we didn’t have enough technology for each student.”

Student engagement has been increasing with the pilot program Harris said, adding that there are more challenges than benefits with the BYOD pilot.

Before the pilot program began, Harris sent a letter home to parents to notify them about it. She said all parents have been receptive to their children bringing personal devices to school, and they were reassured by Harris and the school that devices would be used for learning only.

Florence Wilson Elementary School is using mini-laptops and a Virtual Desktop (VDI) system in Samantha Mangan’s fourth-grade class.

This model is repurposing older mini laptops, which have no programs installed. Instead, the students log in to the “Virtual Desktop’ and the programs come from the VDI server.  These laptops stay in the classroom and are used by three different sets of students.

Along with the various technologies that are implemented, the pilot teachers all have Apple TVs in their classrooms. An Apple TV is a communication device for media content, movies, etc., Schiffelbein said, adding that it is not an actual TV, but a small box system that can connect to TVs or other devices. Those implementing the pilot programs are using the Apple TV’s to display various content and videos relating to lessons or the curriculum.

Horney said the Apple TV, enables him to mirror what is displayed on his iPad for students to see on a projector. It also helps students present content to the whole class, he said.

Both Drubinskiy and Golay said having the Apple TVs in the classroom is a “game changer.”

Golay said it helps with classroom management because she can move around instead of staying in one place.

Drubinskiy is working on creating a mobile station cart for her iPad, which she dubbed the Drubinskiy station, something she can wheel around her classroom to work with students.

Drubinskiy also has a Smart Board in her classroom, but prefers to use the Apple TV over it because she likes to move around and not stand in front of a board. A Smart Board is an interactive, touch screen whiteboard and needs a computer and projector in order for it to be used while an Apple TV is an HDMI-compliant source device and can be connected to any capable TV.

“Right now, I sit in the center of my classroom with my iPad doing everything,” Drubinskiy said. “I have the kids I need to keep an eye on sitting right next to me at all times ,and I can see exactly what they’re doing rather than be tethered to anything.”

The future of K-8 technology

Schiffelbein said the future of the pilot programs and technology at grades K-8 is unknown.

"A lot of it depends on the budget, but we know we need to start integrating technology,” she said.

If the district were to purchase the same model — the iPad 2 Air — that they purchased for this school year, each iPad would cost $299. iPads would have to be purchased for the 6,000-plus K-8 students, which would total to $1.8 million, Schiffelbein said.

“That’s just the hardware costs,” she said.

Other expenses would be cases and adding them to the district’s systems. For every device added to the system, there is an additional cost, Schiffelbein said. More iPads would mean more training for the staff, as well.

“But our focus isn’t just logistics or money, but the effectiveness in the classroom,” Schiffelbein said.

After this school year, those classrooms that have implemented technology through the pilot programs have the opportunity to continue the tech programs in the future.

“They’ve already changed their entire classroom to fit this model. We don’t feel that it’s appropriate to take that away,” Schiffelbein said. “The results you can’t put a price on, but the reality is we cannot implement K-8 right now, that’s not going to happen.”

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com