In Ms. Marguerite Ritchey’s classroom at Frisco Elementary, photos of beavers building dams flashed across the small screen. Sixth-grade student Chloe Krasowski held an iPad in her hands, telling her small group of first-graders all about the animal’s habitat.
The Summit Middle School students traveled to the elementary school Thursday afternoon to present various animal projects using the iPads, technology the school has invested in for classroom use.
The middle school has five carts of iPads, some regular and some mini — enough for a classroom to check out. Teachers can sign up for a day, or just a class period with the tablets.
Bethann Huston, sixth-grade English language specialist at Summit Middle School, said the carts are all housed in different hallways, providing easy access for teachers. Even electives, such as Spanish and art, have a cart in their wing.
“We’re using this technology in all different ways, in all different content areas,” she said.
Huston originally thought of bringing the presentations to the elementary school last year, when her son was in first grade at Frisco.
For the initial animal projects, students did more traditional research in the library, Huston said, using books, encyclopedias and computer databases. Students then wrote a research essay and presented their findings to the class. It was all linked to the recent science curriculum about animals and ecosystems.
“We want to be interdisciplinary, build on concepts and expand their learning,” Huston said. “As much as we can really be moving in that direction, we want to expand learning in other content as well.”
Students then selected an animal to research more in depth for the iPad slideshow presentations. The first-grade classrooms had just finished a unit about animals too, so the timing worked out well.
“It’s refreshing to see,” Ritchey said. “It’s very nice to have to reinforce some things we’ve already been learning about.”
The iPads can help with quick research projects in the classroom. Some teachers assign a quiz to check in on what the students are supposed to be learning, immediately getting feedback. Language learners use apps and programs, while math games help to brush up on skills.
While the tablets can help with organization in the classroom and other logistics, what the middle school is really striving for is to make the technology transformative to the way learning happens.
“The next level is to integrate technology,” Huston said. “It works on the standards of oral presentation and listening, presenting in classrooms with peers, but then to go outside and find an authentic audience.”
The school infrastructure needs a strong network, with good Internet speeds for multiple classrooms getting wired in. There is the cost of the iPads themselves, and any additional applications. However, there are some savings by using digital textbooks instead of more traditional ink and paper ones.
“People in the district have really embraced it,” Huston said. “It’s one small simple thing we’re doing.”
Sometimes it can be difficult for teachers to find the right resources to expand how they teach, simply because large tech companies such as Apple, Google and Adobe all make products that work in their own ecosystems and aren’t compatible. It’s also important to keep up with the current technology, Huston said.
“We are pursuing how we improve technology use and streamline it,” she said. “It’s not just how we make the most of what we have, but how we grow as we look ahead.”
All students sign an Acceptable Use Policy, and the middle school encourages students to always protect and respect themselves, others and intellectual property when using technology.
“Our school sort of has a niche focus on science, and there’s a strong emphasis on technology now, too,” Ritchey said. “It’s great to look forward into the future and show our students what they will be exposed to.”