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What springs to mind when you hear the phrase “technology in education?” Is it an outdated Windows computer collecting dust in the back corner of a classroom? Software that’s nothing more than overly animated flashcards? Or is it the iPad, which supports interactive textbooks and dynamic educational apps for all ages? Whether the tablet is used to teach reading and arithmetic basics to kindergartners, or to create a presentation for teenagers, the iPad is a chameleon in the classroom with the flexibility to adapt to any kind of curriculum. All that’s needed is a school administrator who is willing to adopt it.
iPad owners know how entertaining the tablet is, but many are just learning of the powerful potential the device has shown in reforming education. Even before Apple started to add textbooks to its iBooks library in January, over 1.5 million iPads had been adopted into schools, with 1,000 of them utilized in one-to-one programs. These numbers are phenomenal for a device that’s been around for only three years, but the true usefulness of an iPad in the classroom is something that’s still up for debate.
Kindergartners in Auburn, Maine trade off reading a paperback book and using the iPad 2.
In Maine--one of the first places to fully implement a one-to-one laptop curriculum--schools across the state are replacing static paper textbooks and bulky Dell laptops for the slimmer, faster, and more dynamic iPad. In the Auburn School District, administrators are using the iPad in controlled areas to prove its efficacy in raising literacy rates and teaching mathematical skills. This case study is part of a bigger program dubbed the Advantage 2014 initiative, which aims to raise literacy and numeracy skills from 63 percent and 60 percent, respectively (as measured in spring 2011), to 90 percent in the 2014–2015 school year.
In the study, half of the 16 kindergarten classrooms were randomly assigned iPads to use for nine weeks, and they showed increased improvement results over the non-iPad classrooms. The program used the same curriculum and learning targets, but each kindergartner was given an iPad with apps designed to promote letter and number identification, story sense, counting rhythm, and even socialization.
The study lasted for only nine weeks, but the results showed that the iPad can initiate positive change. “There’s a lot of momentum. People within the district would like to see the program continue,” says Michael Muir, the Auburn School District’s large-scale school change specialist. “I’m not sure we’re really surprised…We got into this because we had evidence that we thought it would work. It wasn’t scientific--it was anecdotal--but it was evidence.” The district is planning to expand the test program to first grade next year.
Three high school students type their answers into an iPad app. (Fern Morrison, Foxcroft Academy class of 2015)
Across the state in Dover-Foxcroft, Foxcroft Academy has implemented a one-to-one program that gives each student and teacher a 16GB iPad 2 with Wi-Fi, plus copies of iWork and iMovie. Students also have individual Apple IDs so they can purchase apps of their liking when they take the iPads home with them, although they must sign an acceptable use policy that allows Foxcroft administrators to inspect the devices from time to time.
Foxcroft Academy has tried various types of technology and the iPad is the only device that’s stuck thus far. “All we had for technology for the students was some desktops in the library, computer lab, and the classroom that teachers could sign out,” says Jonathan Pratt, Assistant Head of School for Academics at Foxcroft Academy. “The iPad had interesting possibilities in terms of helping students access what they know [while interacting] in a very different way with material and information.”
High schoolers put their desks, their minds, and their iPads together to collaborate on a class project. (Photography: Fern Morrison, Foxcroft Academy class of 2015)
The school did a limited test run before fully implementing iPads into the curriculum, then quickly purchased 500 units to dole out to about 475 students for the 2011–2012 school year. “There’s enough existent research that shows well-integrated technology has a positive impact on student learning outcomes,” says Pratt. “We weren’t as concerned about proving that the iPad is just like every other computer so much as getting it out there to everybody all at the same time so teachers could start taking advantage of it in their lessons.”
So far, the only way to truly measure the use of the iPads around campus is through student surveys. Pratt notes that when surveyed, 83 percent of the student body reported that they felt more interested in school when they used an iPad, and 86 percent said that it was easier to gather information. “There’s something different when you’re touching the screen instead of using the abstraction of a mouse,” says Pratt about the results. “I don’t know if it’s unique to the iPad or the ability to just Google [something] in their hands.
Though those aren’t official case studies, you can walk into any classroom on campus to see the iPad utilized. In one English class, students took screenshots of research items and imported them into iMovie, then did a voiceover of a book they were studying based on a script they wrote, and from that developed an entire multimedia component for a class presentation. These types of activities help students engage with what they’re learning, and promote the skills needed to effectively present information to a room of colleagues--something that’s bound to come in handy in college or a career.
Students use their iPads to help answer questions in a corresponding workbook. (Photography: Mark Chevalier, Foxcroft Academy staff)
The teachers at Foxcroft Academy have also chosen specific apps to help kids understand complex subjects. Julie Willcott, who teaches chemistry, physics, biology, and forensics, uses a variety of apps to teach her students new concepts, and to measure their engagement. “I use the eClicker app in all my classes,” she says. “It allows me to poll the audience by asking prepared questions. I get a sense of what the students do and do not understand, and I can then adjust my teaching to address misconceptions.” Willcott also uses apps like iBrainstorm to help students organize their notes, and SimplePhysics and Santa’s Engineer to teach students how to design based on physics principles.
But that doesn’t mean Willcott hasn’t faced some challenges in bringing the iPad into her curriculum. For one, she’s had to completely adjust the way she teaches. “I was, and still am, concerned about finding sufficient time and knowledge to fully implement use of the iPad in the classroom.” Willcott adds that when they’re not using the iPad, she has to make sure that students stay on task during lecture hour. “It is certainly another item for teachers to manage in the classroom.” Willcott continues that the frequency of students being off task usually decreases once the novelty of the device wears off.
One student programs the iPad to work with a keyboard. (Photography: Fern Morrison, Foxcroft Academy class of 2015)
Despite the growing proof that the iPad has a useful place in the classroom, the future of tablets in education rests on finding the money to pay for them. Equipping entire student bodies, even in small private schools, is often prohibitively expensive, especially in the current economic climate. The Auburn School District was fortunate in that it could use leftover grant money to fund some of Advantage 2014, while Foxcroft Academy is a “hybrid” public school that receives public funding, but also recruits foreign exchange students who pay a tuition rate. Other schools aren’t so lucky.
However, Pratt makes the case that it’s more cost efficient in the long run to invest in applications for the iPad rather than buying textbooks every few years. “I think $15 [for a textbook] is a good starting point, especially in our model where students are managing their own devices. We have to think about how many uses we get out of a traditional textbook, divide that cost by a number of uses, and [compare how] that would equate to the digital cost.” Most schools get 10 cycles out of $100 textbooks, so $15 for a yearly digital copy would be a bit pricier, but the trade-off could be worth it in the long run. “You could argue that the ability to own that resource, take notes, and add multimedia is worth the extra cost per student use,” he adds. With every student having immediate access to the internet, Pratt posits that it may be the end of an era. “I don’t know that we need textbooks from traditional publishers now as we did in the past.”
For the most part, educators are optimistic about the potential use of iPads in their classrooms, especially now that the evidence is there. What was once scoffed at is now praised for its possibilities. After hearing these success stories, and many more like them from school districts across the country, it’s easy to agree with Apple VP Phil Schiller, who said that education is deep in Apple’s DNA.