Purdy Schools see smooth transition with iPads

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Students in Molly Strickland's geometry class now use iPads in daily classroom room at Purdy High School. Though Strickland, at right, initially expressed reservations about using iPads as the preferred technology tool, Superintendent Steven Chancellor said she has since become one of the school's guiding lights in finding innovative uses for the devices in her teaching. Murray Bishoff/Cassville Democrat

Teachers gaining ground with innovative teaching tool

After nearly two months of using iPads in the Purdy schools, both students and teachers have found a new comfort level with the devices.

Superintendent Steven Chancellor said the school is well on its way to making the additional technology a standard part of the daily routine.

"Everywhere you go -- it's kind of fun to see -- everybody's got it," he said. "You don't see a kid without a iPad in tow."

As a big step toward broadening the learning experience, the Purdy district distributed iPads to students at the beginning of October. Teachers received theirs two weeks earlier to prepare for their use. Students from third grade through high school each received one of the devices that they can take home, 600 in all. By the end of December, Chancellor hopes to have that number up to 700, adding more for kindergarten through second grade.

"We had a stash of them last year," Chancellor said. "We're bringing them back for kindergarten through second grade. They will be in class, about 10 to 15 of them, not a one-to-one arrangement. The younger students may be able to check them out, but they will not go home."

At the end of the distribution week, teachers took a day to figure out how to use the devices, downloading material for class and becoming familiar with their use. Despite the conventional wisdom that devices instill a degree of isolation, Chancellor found the opposite as teachers eagerly shared their discoveries with each other.

Instruction Coach Mindi Gates reported she had seen both teachers and students exploring the devices, looking for activities on the iPads. In one class, students recorded themselves giving a book talk. Classmates could scan a QR code and see different presentations. A high school teacher pre-recorded lessons, allowing students the chance to revisit specific presentations.

"One reason we went with the iPads is the mobility," Chancellor said. "A laptop is portable, but you still have set-up involved. The iPads are always on. You can walk around and work at the same time, switch between apps, like photo, paste, caption and audio recording to add to the picture.

"We utilize Cloud storage, so we don't need the memory in a laptop. We don't put a lot of restrictions on using the Cloud, as long as you can get what you need when you ask for it."

Guidelines for using the devices become more rigid for lower grades. Chancellor said teachers spend more time on teaching routines and determining when to use the devices or other teaching methods.

"Nothing is seamless, but you don't get a sense that the iPads have only been out there a few weeks," Chancellor said. "I attribute that to the teachers. Nothing replaces a good teacher.

"An iPad will not make kids smarter. They can do things they couldn't do without them."

Chancellor did not recall any serious speed bumps in the first weeks. He attributed the rough patches to deviating from the initial plan, which turned out to be fundamentally sound even though a few shortcuts for convenience seemed like the right idea at the time.

"If we hadn't had our people here on board, it would have been a disaster," Chancellor said. "We had a few 'I don't know what to do' moments. There were no panic moments. If [teachers] saw something they hadn't seen, they'd get anxious, but they wanted to use them in the classroom.

"I told them, 'Play games. Balance your bank statements.' I didn't hear anyone say, 'I'm afraid to try this or afraid to push this button.'

Chancellor said teachers had a couple weeks to think about classroom management.

"They talked a lot about good instruction and good procedures," he said. "I think they were really prepared for it. I've seen teachers helping teachers and kids sharing with teachers how to do things. The school board has been very supportive, even though they didn't know what to expect."

Behind the scenes, advance work by the Apple Computer staff worked out many of the technical support issues. A few steps that Apple could have taken a little earlier could have smoothed the implementation even further, Chancellor observed. Some distinguished educators from the Apple staff will come in later in the year to discuss different ways to incorporate the devices into the classroom and how to use more advanced options.

Chancellor also started a technology intern class, made of three senior boys, during the first hour of classes who provide general support.

"We started the class as something we needed to do on the ground," Chancellor said. "[Business teacher] Kay Wright directs them. Some days they go with me. It's been a lot of fun seeing those kids grow and watching their confidence grow. A lot of people rely on them to be the in-house experts. It's fun to hear the teachers ask for the 'interns.' We see the boys being hit up in the hall by their peers. It's one of the things we accidentally did that's been very good."

Another factor in the successful beginning came from waiting, Chancellor said. By the time the devices arrived, the district had adjusted its network band width and put in wireless connections in all the buildings.

"We spent an incredible amount of time on instruction, so the teachers would be mentally and instructionally prepared to bring them into the classroom," Chancellor said. "We added late start Mondays to give the teachers more professional development time. The last thing we added was the actual iPads."

For the rest of the year, Chancellor expected to see no big leaps, but a lot more learning and tweaking. He expected students would be ready for the state tests next spring that will all be taken online.

Another hurdle will be trying technology-driven teaching now within reach that has never attempted before at the district, such as online summer school.

"We need to have more growth before we try something like that," Chancellor said.

As November ends, classrooms saw the addition of Apple TVs, another device that links to the iPads. The Apple TVs will enable students to project what is on their iPads onto a centrally viewed screen, so that each student's work can provide an example all the students can see and study.

Keyboarding is now taught in the fifth grade. With students having access to devices as early in kindergarten, Chancellor wondered if the next generation will even need special instruction, or if keyboarding will become as natural as walking or running.

"They will be born into it, or they will get their instruction by doing other things where keyboarding is built in," Chancellor said. "I don't think employers will reward people who can type fast. They will ask, 'Can you create and replicate?'"

Chancellor sees the real test for Purdy's innovation coming next year, when classrooms return to the same material.

"Teachers had all this practice," Chancellor said. "They will take their lesson and enhance it. They're developing blended learning, with some seat time and some online time. It will be huge for us.

"It sets us up well to offer things that we couldn't traditionally offer. It won't be long until the iPad is not the conversation. We'll be talking about the learning and not what we did it on."

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