Teachers, students getting familiar with iPads in classroom

10/6/2012

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Edith Robles had some time between her classes Friday morning at Garden City High School.

So the 16-year-old junior sat in a sitting area of the Public Service Academy, pulled out her iPad, and worked on some online college classes she’s taking.

The device in her hand made it possible to work on both her high school classes and colleges classes simultaneously, without going into a computer lab or pulling out different notes and books.

The iPad device, which went into the hands of all GCHS students in September, is changing the way students learn, teachers instruct and the way in which students and teachers interact.

That’s true for Christina Weltmer, anatomy/physiology/biology teacher at GCHS.

Weltmer wasn’t too familiar with Notability, a popular app for note taking. But students taught her the features and how to use it.

“Students are teaching teachers, and teachers are teaching students. It builds a really strong bond,” she said.

Weltmer said she’s enjoying using iPads in her classroom.

“I don’t want to go back to teaching without it,” she said.

The USD 457 Board of Education approved the 1-to-1 iPad initiative in April by a 5-2 vote. Parents or students pay a $40 insurance fee for the devices.

Casey Wise, instructional technologist, said parents were given the choice of making one or two payments if there was a financial issue, but there is no discount.

Rick Atha, USD 457 superintendent, has said the money to fund the iPads for the first year will come out of bond money saved by the new high school.

Technology administrators said in April that the initiative’s cost will be lower than previously reported. The district is using iPad 2 instead of the latest “new iPad,” which will save about $170,000 of the original cost reported to the board.

The previously discussed cost was $1,042,937.64. Using the iPad 2 instead, which technology administrators say is a fine device for student use, the district will spend $872,084.28.

In the second and third years, the money will come out of the supplemental general fund, Atha has said. The cost for the second and third year to the district will be $452,577.14 and $349,600, respectively.

Individual cost for each iPad is $379, plus $19 for the case and $15 for the apps.

Adam Cassellius, GCHS history teacher, said the devices are enhancing his teaching and the students’ learning.

“It’s a dream come true. ... It’s everything I wanted to be able to do in this technological age,” he said.

Cassellius said anything a student does on paper, he also can do on an iPad.

Friday morning, students in his world history class looked at maps of countries to review the origins and spread of religions.

“They’re learning the material. It’s interesting to them,” he said.

Cassellius said students are remembering the iPads, and most are abiding by the rules so they don’t get them taken during the class period.

Cassellius has the students double-click the device’s Home button to show at the bottom of the screen which apps are open. He has students close all of the apps and just open the ones that are used during class.

“If they have anything else open, I can take the iPad. It’s like taking a small piece of their soul. They want to keep their iPads,” Cassellius said.

Robles admits she’s not always working on school-related tasks during class time.

“I play games when I’m bored,” she said.

Robles likes The Sims games, which simulate real life.  

She said it helps the school periods go by quicker when she can play games.

“When I have free time, I can pull it out and play games,” she said.

She also uses the device to socialize and message friends using iMessage.

Sometimes she does schoolwork, plays games and messages friends simultaneously.

“I do multitask,” she said.

During school, she’s using the device to take and organize notes.

One hiccup she sees is seeing restrictions on sites when researching. “Some websites are blocked due to security,” she said.

Under the school’s iPad policy, students use the browser Lightspeed, which automatically blocks restricted sites.

Students also have a list of blacklisted apps. Those apps are blocked due to using too much bandwidth, or because of content, according to Layne Schiffelbien, instructional technology coordinator.

“All of the apps they can use are for 17 years or younger,” she said. Rene Scott, associate principal in the Academy of Trade and Health Science, was part of the pilot group for iPads. She said most of the teachers she oversees in the Academy of Trade and Health Science Academy are using the iPads. Scott does see some of the restrictions being rigid for students and teachers.

“This is something new. We have to have control to start with. It has to start off tight, then can loosen up as students know expectations. It’s just like discipline,” she said.

Scott does see the positives of the iPad. She sees more students engaged and taking ownership in their learning. One student in her academy downloaded the GarageBand app at home, wrote a song and recorded it on his own.

“That’s writing, reading and creativity,” she said.

Scott also said students who are sick are making up more assignments because they can communicate better through email and receive assignments electronically.

“More assignments are being turned in from absent students,” she said.

Scott said that with anything new, there are issues and obstacles.

Some teachers were hesitant about using the iPads, but most are trying, Scott said.

Schiffelbein said the teacher effort is about where she thought it would be at the beginning of the school year. The student discipline, engagement and iPad utility has exceeded tech staff expectations, Schiffelbein said.

There have been a few issues with students downloading blacklisted apps. When a student does that, the student is kicked off the network and then must report to tech staff to get back online. Repeat offenders may have certain privileges taken away and may have tighter restrictions, Schiffelbein said.

Teachers like Shelby McNutt, broadcasting instructor, have been concerned with network issues.  

“But they’re working through those management issues,” he said.

Schiffelbein said network issues have been minimal, but students are forgetting their passwords to E-Backpack, a way to store, discuss, share, turn in, and collaborate on files and assignments, or digital locker that provides workflow for the iPad.

Schiffelbein also addressed public concerns about what happens in the case of lost or stolen iPads, and worries about the devices being a distraction.

“The students are engaged between classes, before school and in their free time. Classrooms are a lot quieter,” she said.

Scott said anything in a classroom can disrupt learning, or be a distraction.

“It just depends what the students have access to,” she said.

As for the lost or stolen iPads, the few lost iPads in the school have been recovered and one has been stolen.

Schiffelbein said a student had been arrested and the officers performing the arrest told the student to lock up his truck. When the student later returned to his truck, it had been broken into and his backpack, with the iPad in it, had been stolen.

Schiffelbein said police have not said whether the iPad has been recovered, and the school cannot track the iPad because it’s been turned off. If the iPad is turned on and used and hits a Wi--Fi network, the district can locate it.

Four or five iPads have been damaged, and those include minor damages that can be fixed, Schiffelbein said.

Edgar Montoya, 18, a senior, said the devices are good tools for school.

“I think they’re great and helpful when they are used right,” he said.

Montoya uses his iPad in algebra.

“At times it can be a bit distracting, but I think they’re good,” he said.

Friday in Weltmer’s class, Allison Doll, 17, a junior, reviewed her notes for a test.

Doll’s notes were yellow, pink and purple, some handwritten on the iPad with her finger, and other parts typed.

Doll said the device keeps her organized and engaged.

“I like being able to carry all of my notes with me in this instead of digging around in my bag trying to find the right ones,” she said.

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