CHARLOTTESVILLE — As he eagerly awaited his turn to play with an iPad on Wednesday, kindergartner Aron Harris had a simple explanation for why he likes the computers more than anything else in the classroom.
“’Cause the rest are boring,” said the freckled tyke.
While teacher Bethany Stacey hopes the other hands-on activities in her Eastern Hancock classroom aren’t “boring,” there’s no doubt her students are latching on to the five new iPads as a way to learn reading, writing and math.
The iPads were integrated into the kindergarten classroom last month. The rural school district has been boosting technology across all of its classrooms, and while Greenfield-Central brought iPads into some kindergarten classrooms two years ago, this is the first time Eastern Hancock’s youngest students have had the chance to play with education apps. Add other technology in the classroom, and Stacey said this year her students are engaged and attentive.
“They’re completely engrossed,” Stacey said, looking at a small group of kindergartners tapping out responses in a math game. “I don’t hear from them – it’s full student engagement.”
A total of six iPads are in Stacey’s classroom – five for the students, and one for herself. Students can use apps to make the shapes of letters, sound out words, and solve math problems using fun animations such as popping bubbles.
Stacey said she also wants advanced students to use the iPads to research things they’re interested in. But acknowledging she’s still on a learning curve, Stacey has yet to find an app that has a beginner reading level on topics like dinosaurs.
The iPads were purchased via donations. Three came through a grant from the Eastern Hancock Education Foundation. Stacey’s mother, Cheryl Stacey, purchased the other three in memory of Stacey’s late father, Dennis.
The education foundation formed two years ago as a way to disburse donations to teachers who need assistance. President Cheryl Apple was at the EH board meeting this week, and said a total of $5,000 has been given out in the past two years.
From purchasing pigs for the agricultural department to tools for special-education students, Apple said the foundation is trying to meet the needs of classroom teachers beyond what the school district is able to purchase.
“We don’t focus on any one thing. We just look at it as, ‘How is this educational for the classroom?’” Apple said.
The foundation wants to spread the word even more about its group to not only boost donations but to raise awareness among teachers that funds are available to help. In Stacey’s case, Apple said awarding the grant was a simple decision because Stacey was able to prove how she could use the iPads to engage students.
Student Grayson Hulen says the game “Math Party” is the best.
“You get to pop all the bubbles, if the numbers are less or the numbers are a lot,” he said.
Luke Schilling said it’s good that the iPads are durable.
“You can’t really break them. If you drop them, the back of them can’t break,” he pointed out.
And while Luke likes the iPads, he also likes the traditional computers in the back of the classroom.
Stacey said she rotates students on the cluster of desktop computers, where they can listen to programs with headphones and click on answers.
The iPads, she said, are more user-friendly for the kindergarten students and also open up a new world of programs. Stacey has her own programs on her iPad. One app, for example, has a monster icon for each student, and she is able to give points for good participation throughout the day. The students with the most points get extra minutes on the iPads at the end of the school day.
Stacey’s classroom is also equipped with sound equipment so students can hear her voice anywhere. Several EH classrooms now have a microphone and speaker system as a means of boosting focus.
“I don’t have to yell, ever,” Stacey said. “I never have to raise my voice. I just have to move the microphone closer.”
The microphones were among dozens of technology upgrades added at the schools in the past two years. EH implemented a one-to-one computer program in 2011; all high school and eighth-grade students have their own laptops.
The school corporation also received 250 desktop computers from the owners of GasAmerica when the company was sold to Speedway last year. That made for plenty of computers at the middle school level, multiple labs for testing all ages, and more money in the school corporation’s budget for other technology upgrades like classroom microphones and speakers.
Superintendent Randy Harris said even more important to the increase in hardware is the investment in teacher training. Professional development has enabled teachers to exchange ideas on how to use technology in the classroom.
“Technology tools, particularly computers, have been in classrooms 25 years,” said Harris. “When (educators) started putting them in 25 years ago, the best thing you could say about some of them over that period of time was, they made great paperweights. They sat on desks; teachers didn’t know how to use them.”
Now, Harris said, the tide is shifting from paper and pencils to keyboards and mice.
When Harris introduced the one-to-one concept two years ago, he said ultimately he’d like to see the district’s youngest students have the same access to technology.
Harris said school officials are still weighing the idea of implementing more computers into elementary classrooms, but tools for a kindergarten class may be different than those for a first-grade or second-grade class.
“How can we make it affordable for parents? How can we make it affordable to our school district?” Harris said.
Still, he said Stacey’s classroom is an example of how new ideas can become a reality with technology.
Kindergartner Promise Doane, who loves guessing characters in stories through the iPad, puts it simply: “It helps you learn more than the other stuff.”