The 4-year-old can’t read complete sentences, but she has been using the device in Aimee Weathers’ class since early fall and is already beginning to master it. With proficiency that surpasses some adults, Smith can access an app, scan codes, take pictures and follow directions from her in-class device.
“It’s fun,” Abbie said recently before school let out for the holidays. “Every day it’s something new.”
Jacksonville City Schools purchased several hundred iPads in May, when the system made the first of three $300,000 payments to buy the devices, which were issued to students in grades four through 12 and given to teachers for classroom use in lower grade levels. In the semester that has passed, some students, like Abbie, and some teachers, like Weathers, have discovered how to use their devices to learn and teach at Kitty Stone Elementary.
On a mid-December day, students in one classroom were using the devices to combine visual and audio elements to test their language skills. In another class, students used special codes to access tutorials, to practice counting and to watch videos.
“The iPads just draw your attention,” said Gillian Glass, a sixth-grader in Jennifer Loos’ reading period. Class “wasn’t as fun before the iPads,” she said.
According to teachers, the devices help students learn coursework at a rate that works best for each one of them.
Weathers said that she can tell the devices help her young students pay attention when she uses them to teach students to write letters and numbers. When it’s time to practice writing and identifying numbers, Weathers said, students in her class sit cross-legged on the floor, iPads in hand.
While Weathers sits in a chair in front of them, using drawing apps, she writes numbers or letters on her iPad’s screen with her finger. Then students respond by drawing the same numbers or letters, then flashing them for her to see or taking pictures for her to review. All the students participate, she said.
“In the past you didn't have 100 percent of the kids engaged,” Weathers said.
Another one of Loos’ sixth-grade students, Christopher Davis, said he is a better student because of the devices. Davis said he uses his iPad to look up homework assignments on Edmodo, a website that resembles Facebook and is used by students, parents and teachers to communicate.
“When I didn’t have the iPad, I used to always be late with my homework,” Davis said.
Davis also said the device is helping him to understand math, a subject he was bored with before. Now, he said, he likes following along and he’s learning more because teachers use apps with math games, which Davis said makes the learning process more enjoyable.
Karen Nelson said students in her second-grade class are also more attentive when they use their iPads.
Students use an app in her class to make movie trailers and present them to their peers, instead of writing traditional book reports. The trick to making the trailers successful, she said, is learning not to give the end of the story away.
“When it’s done playing, they all cheer and then they want to go read the book,” Nelson said.
The trailers contain slides that pan over images of the books, and text written by the students and they. The exercise tests the students’ knowledge of story elements, allows them to practice their English language skills and gives them a chance to use the technology.
“They’re able to create something that they couldn't have done before,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the app is just one way she uses technology in her classroom. And, the veteran teacher said, she and some other Kitty Stone teachers are constantly trying to find new ways to incorporate technology and use creative techniques to teach students, and themselves.
“I’ve learned more about technology in the last two years ... than I would have ever imagined,” Nelson said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.