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iPads offer new teaching, learning tools for Concord’s elementary schools

  • Kira Carleton, a first grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, gets help filming a narration for a video she's making on baby chickens from technology integration specialist Heather Drolet on June 5, 2013 in Concord. The activity involved Carleton using her tablet to document  and tell the story of the recently hatched chicks that her class helped raise over the school year. With younger students, Drolet says, its easier to use the technology in smaller groups.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Kira Carleton, a first grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, gets help filming a narration for a video she's making on baby chickens from technology integration specialist Heather Drolet on June 5, 2013 in Concord. The activity involved Carleton using her tablet to document and tell the story of the recently hatched chicks that her class helped raise over the school year. With younger students, Drolet says, its easier to use the technology in smaller groups.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Katie Watt, a fourth grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, right, gets feedback from her teacher Stephanie Downing after presenting the poem she constructed using her tablet on June 5, 2013. Watt and her class used a magnetic poetry app that allowed them to pick words, color them for emphasis and create prose around a certain theme. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Katie Watt, a fourth grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, right, gets feedback from her teacher Stephanie Downing after presenting the poem she constructed using her tablet on June 5, 2013. Watt and her class used a magnetic poetry app that allowed them to pick words, color them for emphasis and create prose around a certain theme.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Sadie Rose, 6, reacts to the effect she chose to help bring together her short video on the baby chickens that her class helped raise while working with technology integration specialist Heather Drolet on June 5, 2013 at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Sadie Rose, 6, reacts to the effect she chose to help bring together her short video on the baby chickens that her class helped raise while working with technology integration specialist Heather Drolet on June 5, 2013 at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Heather Drolet, a technology integration specialist at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, helps Sadie Rose, 6, with the interface to the Animoto app while working on a video Rose is making about the baby chickens her class spent part of the year raising on June 5, 2013.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Heather Drolet, a technology integration specialist at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, helps Sadie Rose, 6, with the interface to the Animoto app while working on a video Rose is making about the baby chickens her class spent part of the year raising on June 5, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Heather Drolet, a technology integration specialist at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, watches as Liam Grennon, 11, right, films his classmate Autumn Bernier, 11, center, while making a video about their reflections at the end of the fifth grade on June 5, 2013 in Concord. The fifth graders created scripts, filmed each other and edited the short videos in about 45 minutes using their tablets. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Heather Drolet, a technology integration specialist at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, watches as Liam Grennon, 11, right, films his classmate Autumn Bernier, 11, center, while making a video about their reflections at the end of the fifth grade on June 5, 2013 in Concord. The fifth graders created scripts, filmed each other and edited the short videos in about 45 minutes using their tablets.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Kira Carleton, a first grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, gets help filming a narration for a video she's making on baby chickens from technology integration specialist Heather Drolet on June 5, 2013 in Concord. The activity involved Carleton using her tablet to document  and tell the story of the recently hatched chicks that her class helped raise over the school year. With younger students, Drolet says, its easier to use the technology in smaller groups.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Katie Watt, a fourth grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, right, gets feedback from her teacher Stephanie Downing after presenting the poem she constructed using her tablet on June 5, 2013. Watt and her class used a magnetic poetry app that allowed them to pick words, color them for emphasis and create prose around a certain theme. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Sadie Rose, 6, reacts to the effect she chose to help bring together her short video on the baby chickens that her class helped raise while working with technology integration specialist Heather Drolet on June 5, 2013 at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Heather Drolet, a technology integration specialist at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, helps Sadie Rose, 6, with the interface to the Animoto app while working on a video Rose is making about the baby chickens her class spent part of the year raising on June 5, 2013.  <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Heather Drolet, a technology integration specialist at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, watches as Liam Grennon, 11, right, films his classmate Autumn Bernier, 11, center, while making a video about their reflections at the end of the fifth grade on June 5, 2013 in Concord. The fifth graders created scripts, filmed each other and edited the short videos in about 45 minutes using their tablets. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

On a recent afternoon at Christa McAuliffe School, technology integration specialist Heather Drolet asked fifth-graders to make videos about their elementary school memories. As she explained the project, she read a list of sentences she wanted the students to complete, touching on everything from thank-yous for favorite teachers to opinions on cafeteria food.

For one question, several students already knew their answer.

“The best thing about the Christa McAuliffe building is . . .”

“iPads!” a chorus of voices yelled out, referencing the very device they’d be using to create their videos.

The Concord School District purchased 1,250 iPads to split among the three new elementary schools, enough for each student to have his or her own, along with 75 Apple TV display devices and 350 laptops. The two older elementary schools, Broken Ground and Beaver Meadow, have a limited set of iPads, alongside computer and laptop access, and will be upgraded this summer to support more technology. In addition, the district hired four technology integration specialists, including Drolet, to help the teachers bring the technology into their lessons in meaningful and productive ways.

One year in, teachers,

principals and administrators say the iPads have changed the classroom for the better, chiefly by providing new tools for student engagement and giving teachers a better glimpse into how students think and learn. The beginning of the school year had its glitches, including spotty wireless access and learning the basics of the iPads, but the teachers see even greater possibilities for the future now that they’re comfortable with the devices.

“The beginning of the year was a lot of how-to for the teachers and the students – how to open an app, how to print, how to, how to, how to,” Drolet said. “And now as we get to the end of the year, it’s a lot more creative stuff. . . . It’s a lot more of a deeper connection to the curriculum now.”

‘Show what you know’

The tech integrators and teachers look for three criteria to measure the usefulness of an app: Is it engaging, effective and purposeful?

“We can derail this so easily by just having the kids play games or doing the wrong kinds of independent work, or just sort of not capitalizing on the power of these tools,” said Chris Demers, tech integration specialist at Broken Ground and Mill Brook.

“Show what you know” has become a type of mantra when it comes to using the iPads. A popular app called Educreations lets students record their own voices while working through math problems. The teachers can play it back later and see if the child went through the correct thought process.

Even simpler, practicing handwriting on an iPad can show teachers exactly how a student learning to write is forming a certain letter.

“It’s kind of replacing multiple choice tests, for example, where they’re just guessing,” Drolet said. “This is way more authentic.”

The iPads also provide new tools for presenting information. Now, in addition to writing a report or making a poster, students can incorporate photos, videos and audio into their classwork. The interactive nature of the iPad gives students more ways to engage with the material.

Fourth-grade teacher Stephanie Downing, for example, asked Drolet to help her use the iPads for a poetry lesson. Drolet introduced an app called Word Mover to work on “found poetry,” where students had to find poems within a list of available words, such as the text of the Gettysburg Address or the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”

When the students found new app features, such as changing the colors and fonts of words, Downing was quick to retool her instructions to eliminate distractions. If students changed the color of a word, they better have a reason for it, she told them.

Moving around words, adding color and remixing famous speeches is more appealing than writing a poem with pencil and paper for many students.

“Some people really make it creative, and it makes the app more fun,” said student Skylar Howard, who also added that using the iPads makes assignments easier.

“We used to have to write things, and it’s messy,” added classmate Kaitlyn Watt. A No. 2 pencil with an eraser cap still graces the top of each desk in Downing’s classroom, however, and paper and pencil assignments still exist.

The Apple TV projectors also allow teachers to display a student’s screen for the whole class to see. That motivated kids to stay focused on their poetry in hopes that their classmates would read it. Another feature lets the teachers lock the iPads into certain apps to minimize distractions. Distractions such as socializing with classmates exist with and without the iPad.

“We certainly have our fair share of kids getting sidetracked, but we do with pencil and paper, too,” Drolet said.

A new tool

Although the iPads provide endless possibilities for educators, they’re only effective if the teachers buy into their value. Throughout the year, the tech specialists have provided professional development opportunities so the teachers feel comfortable enough using the technology with students who, in many cases, are more tech savvy.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, iPads, first-graders, really?’ ” said first-grade teacher Andrea McGahan. “But now I think it’s kind of neat. I think it’s just become a way of life (for the students).”

Drolet offers optional 20-minute after-school workshops, called “Tech Twenties,” once a week for teachers. Because the teachers aren’t forced to use the iPads just for technology’s sake, they’ve also been able to move more at their own pace. Teachers in all of the schools have been eager and willing to experiment with the iPads, the tech integrators said.

“The technology doesn’t improve teaching; the teachers improve technology,” Drolet said. “They take it as a tool just like any tool and they improve upon it, it’s not the other way around.”

At McAuliffe, there were struggles with wireless connectivity at the beginning of the year, which frustrated some teachers and students. A group of fifth-graders said they couldn’t use the iPads much at first because they could never get connected to the internet. Drolet said the demand for wireless was overwhelming at first, but the system was updated in the first few months of the year to better suit the school’s needs.

Casey Barnewall, a third-grade teacher at McAuliffe, actively brings technology into his lessons and is completing an outside independent study on tech integration. He uses an app that functions just like Facebook but with more control, where his students can share their work, give each other feedback and have class discussions. He also learns a thing or two from his students.

“They sometimes show me stuff that I don’t know, so it gives them a chance to shine,” he said.

McAuliffe art teacher Liz MacBride was also skeptical about the value of the iPads in her class. But she ended up discovering apps that give kids new exposure to digital art and animation.

Asked if she ever envisioned herself frequently using apps in her classroom, she said, “I really didn’t, and I might not have if I wasn’t really pushed to do it, but I really enjoyed it.”

Making improvements

This summer the district will focus on updating the wireless systems at Broken Ground and Beaver Meadow elementary schools. Infrastructure updates will increase the schools’ wireless capability tenfold, and they’ll be receiving more iPads, said Matt Ballou, the district’s information technology director. Both schools have only a few classroom sets of iPads that teachers must share. That didn’t put students at those schools too far behind this year, said Beaver Meadow Principal John Forrest.

“The technology has been trickling in throughout the year. That’s actually been good because we have more time to think about how to use it,” Forrest said.

Beyond infrastructure improvements, there will be a focus this summer on training teachers in Google. The state requires every student to have a digital portfolio by graduation, and the district will be using Google features to store student work. The email portal allows for sharing files that can be accessed anywhere through the internet, which also makes it easier for students to collaborate on projects.

“We can talk online; paper has gone extinct,” said Ian Ewert, a McAuliffe fifth-grader who says he’s used Google Docs in the classroom and to access his work at home.

As with all technology, the iPads – and what teachers can do with them – will continue to evolve. But Concord’s elementary educators and students are eager to continue building on the lessons and successes of this year.

“It’s been a year of experimentation with kids and with staff,” Demers said. “I love the fact that every time (the tech specialists) go into the classroom to teach, the teacher is there, and it’s sort of this dual purpose – teaching kids and teachers something along the way.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments4

Let’s not overlook the statement that Broken Ground and Beaver Meadow do not have iPads for their students. I am happy for those students that have access but we need to have equal access across the district. The quality of your access should not be dependent on your address. Next year’s 6th graders that come for BMS or BGS will certainly be at a disadvantage, many of their peers have had an entire year of having their own device. And what about the 2nd graders going from Mill Brook to Broken Ground? They have had these devices for a year, next year they will have very limited access. So while the new schools have had these terrific devices and tech integrators the BGS kids have limited technology and no librarian. If these devices are so amazing than let them be amazing for ALL of Concord’s kids!

My daughter uses an iPad app called RAZ-Kids in her school - she has from Kindergarten and will be continuing on in 1st grade. As an iPad reading program (that she can access better than I can - LOL) I am amazed at how quickly kids can advance in basic skills with tools like this. Amazing!

Many feel that exposing young folks to computers, etc is okay if it is monitored correctly. I am in that group. But at older ages. Not elementary schools. We are now seeing that we seem to be more connected to Technology than we are to communicating face to face. That relieves us of face to face communication skills. Sitting in a dentist office one day, I noticed that every person there was texting and avoiding eye contact with each other. All ages. It was odd, beacuse I was not, and I felt a bit of sadness that communication was just not there. Nobody said hi, nice weather out there, etc. Communication skills that seem to be lost. Everybody is in their own little tent with technology shutting everybody else out. Why do we not have the same fear of computers that we had about too much TV? We seem to have teachers striving to be as entertaining as video games and TV. Now they have to up the game and compete with computers. The computers will win. And teachers will be handing over their teaching skills to technology. Another attention shortening device as far as I am concerned. Just like the boob tube.

My children go to one of the new school that got the iPads. iPads are a great tools its a move in the right direction but its important to remember they are TOOLS they are not magic. The iPad right out of the box is accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired. My daughter is able to to write and read in braille with her iPad, she is able to do many exciting things with it . She just finished writing a research paper on the iPad and that was a very positive experience. There are issues though and the iPads are not perfect .I don't feel there was enough training given to the teachers. One of the issues this year have been that many of the 'approved' apps that teachers have to work with are not accessible. It is a learning experience for the school district, I hope they have learned some important lessons. I do hope the team picking the apps will start to make better choices picking the apps. While technology can be a tool to allow inclusion of children with disabilities it can also alienate them if not done right.

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