2014-01-10 / Front Page

School makes iPad transition

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Mary Hebert, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Middle School of the Kennebunks, helps Laura Farmer with research on her iPad. Hebert encourages students to use the iPad as a tool, “just like a pen, pencil or a notebook.” She is teaching her seventh graders how to find credible sources using their iPads. (Alex Acquisto photo) Mary Hebert, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Middle School of the Kennebunks, helps Laura Farmer with research on her iPad. Hebert encourages students to use the iPad as a tool, “just like a pen, pencil or a notebook.” She is teaching her seventh graders how to find credible sources using their iPads. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNK — “For some of us, moving from laptops to iPads was a transition,” said Middle School of the Kennebunks seventh-grade teacher, Fred Myers.

The replacement took place at the beginning of the school year, exclusively for seventh- and eighth-grade students.

The desire to provide the most up-todate devices to students on a ratio of 1:1 is one of Maine Learning Technology Initiative’s long-term goals, first spearheaded by former Gov. Angus King, who sought to provide all seventh- and eighth-grade students with the most pertinent technological devices.

The initiative’s primary objective: to make certain that Maine students are equipped with relevant, modernized technological tools to ensure professional development and to smoothly enter a more technology-centered world.

In late April, Gov. Paul LePage announced that Hewlett Packard (HP) laptops were preferential for Maine students; however, flexibility was allowed with each district’s selected devices. Middle schools, in particular, are allowed five other choices for technological devices through a bidding process, including Apple iPads. If, for example, a middle school does not choose to distribute HP devices to its students, the Maine Department of Education will pay the cost of HP devices, and the district would fund the difference, according to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative portion of Maine.gov.

“When you go into the workforce, there will be thousands of computer programming jobs,” Sheila Wells said to sixth-graders sitting cross-legged on the floor of Middle School of the Kennebunks’ library in early December. “It’s something that goes across all curriculum areas.” Wells, the STEM coordinator for elementary and middle school students in Regional School Unit 21, was visiting the middle school to give a special presentation that coincided with the Week of Code campaign Dec. 9 through 15, when computer coding was simplified for students.

Activities such as coding with the popular game “Angry Birds” were facilitated. More than 40 schools and approximately 15,000 students participate, according to the Maine Department of Education. “Can you flap your ducky wings if you use a computer once a month?” guidance counselor Ward Willis emphatically asked the students. A few flaps rippled through the sea of sixth graders. Willis was priming students for the video they would soon watch where recognizable people spoke about the approachability and allure of coding and computer programming careers.

“Can you flap your ducky wings if you use a computer once a week?” Willis asked. “Once a day?” The crowd wiggled and giggled. “Now, can you make a shark fin if you know what you’re going to be when you grow up.” Willis said.

Just shy of half the students responded with fins. “If you don’t know, make moose antlers. Maybe some of you think it’s exciting to make big sums of money computer programming?” Willis asked. A few students replied in the affirmative.

Wells pressed play and words appeared on the screen: “Everybody in this country should know how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think. –Steve Jobs.”

The video, in essence, for 15 minutes, marketed computer programming to students. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates appeared on screen and students gasped excitedly. “You don’t have to be a genius to code,” Gates said. “Plus and minus is about all you need.” Students were told that whether they wanted to work in agriculture or entertainment, becoming acquainted with modern operating systems was the indisputable key. “I think it’s the closest thing we have to having a superpower,” a student said. Zuckerburg appeared on screen once more. “To get the very best people, we try to make the office as awesome as possible,” he said. Shots of arcade rooms and multi-colored work spaces, cafeterias that looked like restaurants and a basketball court flashed across the screen. “I want to work there,” a boy shouted from the library floor. “Whether you want to make a lot of money or change the world, computer programming is a very empowering skill to have,” said another young student. By the time the credits ran, and the children were vibrating with excitement.

After a brief introduction to the next activity, students were released to classrooms to practice rudimentary coding with “Angry Birds.” In many of the seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms, while the curriculum is not fraught with the heavy-handed sale of a career in technology, most other learning aids have been supplanted by the iPad. For example, Sharon Greenglass, an eighth-grade math teacher from the Bibeau team who recently transferred her entire textbook to the iPad, encourages her students to take pictures of the notes she transcribes on her white board rather than write them down.

“They are able to listen better because they aren’t distracted by trying to write down the notes,” Greenglass said.

Instances like these attest to the pervasiveness of the iPad. It seems convenience is, in some cases, eclipses necessity; snapping photos of notes, in this case, fails to expose students to the act of multi-tasking. Invariably, iPads appear to be altering the way students are learning.

Mary Hebert, a seventh-grade language arts teacher on the Dalton team, is teaching her students how to research and find credible sources using the iPad.

“There’s no difference in researching, but there is a difference in formatting,” Hebert said on Monday of laptops versus iPads.

When it comes to using and monitoring iPads in the classroom, said Hebert, “As a teacher, it’s a balancing act. I don’t want to hover.”

“I am a technology lover, but it doesn’t mean everything should be done using technology,” Hebert said, who requires her students to do almost as much writing with a pencil and paper.

Eighth-grader Meredith Thibodeau was in Hebert’s language arts class last year as a seventh grader. When she heard that the school was switching from laptops to iPads, she publicly opposed the decision and even went so far as to meet with Principal Jeff Rodman.

“When you think of an iPad you don’t think of it as a learning device, you use it as a toy,” Thibodeau said. “It’s easy for teachers not to watch us like they did with laptops.”

Thibodeau rattled off a number of differences between the two devices, including how downloading and playing games and chatting is considerably easier and less detectable to teachers walking behind a student.

“With the computers there was a firewall; with this it’s so much easier because you can search as a private user and is untraceable,” Thibodeau said as she tapped the iPad to demonstrate. “With the computers you really had to commit – seriously commit – to making a separate folder to download games and hide it.”

“I’ll see a student next to me and I’ll know what they’re doing and I know a teacher won’t catch them, but I don’t want to be a tattletale,” Thibodeau said.

“We’re really struggling with self-responsibility,” Hebert said. “To me, it’s not about banning things, but teaching how to use them correctly. If I had a choice I would choose laptops,” Hebert said. “But you also have to go with the flow.”

Mike Denniston, a seventh-grade science teacher on the Dalton team, touts the iPad as a highly valued commodity when it comes to teaching and the dissemination of materials to students.

Denniston stood at the front of his classroom, iPad in hand. Next to him, projected for students to see, he displayed an interactive grid-like chart which depicted dominant and recessive eye colors.

The activity and methodical set-up of the chart allowed students to more easily deduce how and why certain eye colors were recessive or dominant. Denniston asked whether blue eyes were a recessive or dominant trait. When a student answered, “Recessive,” Denniston tapped one of the grid’s boxes to insert the correct answers and the students did the same. As class time dwindled, Denniston made sure students were given their assignments for the following day.

“Everyone, turn on your AirDrop,” he said. The students complied and Denniston, with the flick of his pointer finger, “dropped” the electronic assignment to all of his students. Quicker and more reliable than email, AirDrop is faster and more environmentally conscious than print- ing out 15 pieces of paper. “We’re trying to go paperless,” Denniston said after the bell rang and students scurried to their next class. “Now, when I hand things out, I hand them out electronically. When we started using laptops in 2001, it was a steep learning curve. It took a long time to move from paper to laptops.”

In addition to AirDrop, which is an attribute of the new iOS 7 system and can be used on iPad 2’s and iPhone 4’s and higher, Denniston uses AirPlay which allows for the streaming of videos, photos and music, among other things. “This AirPlay is incredible for letting kids share things in class,” Denniston said. “The collaboration in class is awesome, and a change in discussion is so easy.”

Denniston admitted something that several administrators and teachers said: familiarizing oneself with the iPad was as much a task for the students as it was for teachers, thus changing the mentor-mentee dynamic. Both were learning and teaching and figuring out solutions, together. “Teachers and kids are becoming learners together, and it’s really fun,” Denniston said.

Assistant Principal Jean Beaulieu went even further and said, “It’s become a three-way-partnership between students, teachers and parents.”

Said Greenglass, “Students keep other students in line because they now see the iPad as an essential part of their education. Most kids use it appropriately all the time.”

While all administration or instructors strive to constantly impress upon the students how to use their devices as learning and research tools, most are also privy to reality: kids will be kids.

“We’re not blind to the fact that kids are kids,” said Rodman. “We also have a community that wants students engaged and using it (iPads) for the right reasons.”

This leads to another factor in the surge of technology in classrooms, a factor that leaves some feeling ambivalent about the transition from computer to the iPad’s iOS 7 operating system: the difference in security and monitoring abilities.

With the iPad comes more easily maneuverable learning tools, such as the applications Keynote and Notability, but with these devices comes also the reality of an increased access to distracting and dangerous material.

Middle School of the Kennebunks provides regulated Wifi to its students, like most schools in Maine. These regulations are intended to prevent certain web pages and content from being accessed on school grounds — social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as a bounty of lascivious and questionable sites. When students leave the school campus and use other Wifi whether at public or at home, the same regulations are not in place.

Such was also the case with laptops; however, the difference lies in detectability and the tracing of that content, as Thibodeau said. One of the major differences with iOS 7 is its privacy setting on its Internet search engine, Safari. Simply tap the icon, and once it’s activated, tap what looks like an open book at the bottom of the application, on the tool bar. On the bottom left one can then click Private, which eliminates the detectable search history. This can easily be reversed by a parent or a teacher, however, it can be turned on and off easily.

When asked about this difference, Rodman said, “The security is different, but the expectations are still the same ... We would like to think that students are engaged and using their devices for work.”

Said Beaulieu: “Schools do the best job they can do with what they have, regardless of what security we want to put on state-owned devices.”

An informational sheet detailing ways in which students’ iPads could be monitored was distributed to parents at the start of the school year. Tips such as “Encourage your child to use their iPad in common areas of the house where you can monitor their activity,” and “Talk to your child and set clear expectations about what is appropriate use of the iPad.”

A step-by-step guide for parents to check their child’s web history was also distributed. Rodman and Beaulieu acknowledged that mistakes among students will, of course, be made. “And what a wonderful place to have these slip-ups,” said Beaulieu in reference to students being surrounded by supportive teachers. “Our job as teachers is to teach them what is appropriate.”

“This was a huge shift for us. We were getting to such a great place with laptops,” said Rodman, who described the transition from laptop to iPad as a “step sideways more than backwards,” in reference to the time it is taking for students and teachers to learn how to use the devices comfortably. “I think the eighth-graders like the iPad more than they thought. There is more freedom with it,” Rodman said.

“As this thing evolves I think we’re going to find iPads as useful as, or more so, than laptops,” said Myers. “(iPads) play into their (students’) strategies, because it’s built like an iPhone.” And students know iPhones. Myers, a seventh-grade global studies teacher on the Sylvanus team, has been teaching for more than 40 years. This particular school year, Myers said, he has taken more risks than ever in his classroom because of the iPad.

In preparation for the implementation of iPads in his classroom, Myers took two training courses on the device during the summer. “For me, personally, moving from the laptop to the iPad required some education ... I feel like the students are leading me, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that.”

Like many, the iPad has supplanted the textbook in Myers’ classroom. But, Myers makes it a point to refrain from using the device every class period, so students don’t forget how to learn the old-fashioned way. Before entering his classroom, students take note of the color square displayed in Myers’ mailbox outside his classroom: green means bring the iPad and open it right away; yellow means bring it, but don’t open it right away; red means leave it in the locker.

“I don’t feel guilty when we don’t use technology,” Myers said. “One should use technology to enhance teaching and learning, but don’t forget what good teaching is. You don’t need technology to teach and inspire the kids. Technology is a tool. Many of us here have innate teaching skills that don’t involve technology.”

When it comes to accessing reliable sources, Myers praised the iPad as “absolutely wonderful. We’re really trying to work on credible sources and academic honesty, and iPads are tremendous in that way,” Myers said.

A focus of International Baccalaureate schools that the iPad caters to, said Myers, is student-directed learning. “(iPads) really give kids dignity of expertise ... the iPad gave them more possibilities.” iPad-facilitated distractions that Myers most often witnesses are students chatting and playing games.

“You’re given this product and there are games on it,” he said. “It is difficult in terms of appropriate use. Some kids are having trouble; they don’t know how to turn it off,” Myers said about some concerned parents who have contacted him. “I think if you were to ask surrounding schools in Maine, they would all probably say it is an issue. We recognize the situation we’re putting kids in and we want to hear from them: ‘What do you think? How can we help you?’” Myers said. “I like the fact that kids are being honest about it.” With virtually open access to overwhelming amounts of material, appropriate and inappropriate, students’ behavior is monitored at school, but once at home, parents need to be fastidious, Myers said. “With parents at home, what we need to focus on is a healthy use of technology – how often and in what context?”

As iPads become cemented as primary tools in the foundation of academia, they are proving to be equal parts distraction and advantage.

“As we evolve through this, for some kids, they’re more of a distraction than they should be ... some kids have trouble, and it’s a maturity issue, too,” Myers said.

Both Rodman and Beaulieu agreed that, when used correctly, the iPad can lead to a greater success in school.

“The more they need it, the more they understand what its use is,” Rodman said. “It has become their pen and pencil, their notebook and their calculator.”

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