Public schools investing in 100 iPads

Published 12:03 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT McLaurin Elementary Principal Alice Morrison shows fourth-grade student Amaijay Tucker, 10, how to operate one of school’s new iPads Friday afternoon at McLaurin.

NATCHEZ — Some schools in Natchez will soon be widening their horizons into the 21st century with the flick of a finger.

Students at three schools in the Natchez-Adams School District and at Cathedral School, possibly by the end of the month, will be able to improve reading and writing skills from their desks via iPads.

The instructional tablets work like computers that respond with a touch screen but are smaller and thinner than an average-sized textbook.

In addition, McLaurin Elementary Principal Alice Morrison said educators can download applications, or “apps,” geared specifically toward learning in the classroom.

Tucker prepares to read a story on one the iPad.

Morrison, who already uses an iPad at school, said the tablets engage students so much that she has already been able to use her personal iPad at school to reward good behavior.

One of her students — “I call him my iPad friend,” Morrison said — gets 10 minutes to play educational games on her iPad when his teachers give him a positive report.

“We made a pact: good behavior, and you get iPad time,” Morrison said.

By harnessing that level of engagement on a regular basis in the classroom, instruction is better catered to the way today’s students think.

“This is what they do is technology,” Morrison said.

Cathedral Elementary Principal Shannon Bland said when the tablets arrive, students can take their Accelerated Reader quizzes, for example, on the iPads instead of beelining to the library or computer lab.

“It’s really about engaging the students with technology that they’re used to,” Bland said.

NASD Federal Programs Director Marilyn Alexander-Turner said using technology in the classroom allows students to learn using a method for which they are already comfortable.

“If (students) think they’re in control and have an opportunity to be engaged, I think you’re going to see a lot of learning taking place,” Alexander-Turner said.

Both Alexander-Turner and Bland said the instructional tablets work together with Promethean boards in most classrooms to make learning with technology even more interactive.

At the NASD, the first classrooms to benefit from the new technology will be one classroom each of students in three grades who will be taking writing assessments as part of state accountability testing.

One class of fourth-grade language arts, seventh-grade English and high school English II will receive 25 iPads each to remain in those classrooms.

Alexander-Turner said administrators are in the process of selecting writing apps to download on the tablets that will allow students to type on a keyboard displayed on the screen.

In addition, 25 of the tablets will be distributed among school administrators and school board members for professional development.

Alexander-Turner said principals can use the tablets to view teachers’ lesson plans and to report on observational rounds of individual classrooms. The tablets are a step toward going paperless, she said.

Bland said Cathedral students in all classes will have a chance to use the tablets because they will be available for teachers to check them out on mobile carts.

She said six teachers have already received iPads and are testing different apps to find the best, most compatible ones for classroom instruction. And teachers are ready to put some extra work in to learning how to use the tablets best, she said.

“The students are so excited, the teachers are excited…It’s an investment for the teachers and the school as well,” she said.

The NASD School Board approved the purchase 125 iPads from Apple at a Sept. 29 meeting for $80,450 to be paid with federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds or stimulus funds.

NASD received 100 of the iPads paid with ARRA funds, and Cathedral received 25.

The board also approved 20 iPads for Cathedral through federal Title I funds, which cost $19,978.

Alexander-Turner said the packages of iPads, which are purchased in bundles, include a protective plan, some training and upgrades.

Alexander-Turner said more classrooms might receive iPads if the pilot classes, which should receive them by Oct. 20, reveal that using the tablets improves student achievement on state tests.

“We’re using (the tablets) to increase student achievement and make sure we’re moving in the 21st century to compete not just with students in Mississippi but with students globally,” she said.