By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 21, 2015 – At Forest Park Elementary School, every student from kindergarten through fifth grade has an iPad or laptop computer to call his or her own during the school day.
Forest Park is the first school in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to be one-to-one, as having a device for every student is called.
In kindergarten through second grade, students use iPads. In the upper grades, students use laptops. The electronic devices have had a transformative effect throughout the school.
Students have enthusiastically embraced the technology, said Anna Dooley, the school’s instructional technology facilitator. “They love learning. They love coming to school.”
Kindergarten teacher Mandie Cain agreed.
“The iPad is a tool in our classroom that keeps the students so very engaged, motivated, and ready to learn!” Cain said. “The kids love being able to have the choice to choose technology as a tool for learning. They take pride in the work that they create using their iPads and they love to share their work with everyone! This works out well because it allows the students to explain their reasoning to their classmates and to myself.”
First-grade teacher Jennifer Harding has discovered that the iPads assist the teaching process in a variety of ways:
One, it enables her to send statements about a topic and related questions to all students simultaneously.
This allows for greater student engagement as everyone is actively working,” Harding said. “I can show student responses on the board and they are stored…I can easily go back at the end of each day and quickly review all responses and use it to inform instruction for the next day. I can even show a parent their child’s work quickly and easily.”
Harding can also create a reading library for each student’s iPad that is set for that student’s reading level. “I find students are enjoying reading more by having this option, and on rainy days, they even ask if they can read a book on their iPads for recess,” Harding said.
When it’s time to write a story, students can write and create illustrations or take photos on their iPads. “We are creating a book that shows the growth of a sunflower from a seed,” Harding said. “Each day, students take a picture of their seed/plant and write their observations on a new page. When it is finished, they will be able to see the development of their plant over time. When their book is finished, they will be able to share with each other.”
Students create blogs and add a post each day. “It is a great way for the shy students to communicate their thoughts and interact more with others...One of the greatest things about blogging and the story maker app is that students are practicing their writing and they don’t even know it. In the past, writing was a chore and now it is a pleasure. They look forward to posting in their blog or writing a comment to respond to an entry.”
The list of ways teachers that teachers throughout the school are using the technology goes on. In physical education classes, students might use the devices to keep track of their heart rates and do research into what activities increase the heart rate the most. At a bulletin board in the hall about, say, Martin Luther King Jr., students can stop and use their devices to scan a black-and-white matrix called a QR code that takes them to more information about King and the Civil Rights movement.
Although students are assigned a particular device to use during the school day, for the moment they cannot take it home at the end of the day. Fuller hopes that will change in coming years.
Teachers and other staff members are also enthusiastic about the devices. Third-grade teacher Kazie Poole had been planning to go graduate school to study library sciences.
“But this year becoming 1:1 made me realize that I have much more potential in instructional technology,” Poole said. “I realized how much technology enriched my teaching and engaged the students. I eventually want to be able to show other teachers how much technology can help them as well…I honestly do think that blending my classroom with technology has improved my teaching this year.”
This is the first year that Forest Park has had devices for every student. Along with science and writing, technology is one of the themes at Forest Park. When Fuller and Dooley started talking about possibilities for more fully incorporating it into the school day, providing an electronic device for every student came up. Teachers supported it as part of their vision for Forest Park being a place of 21st century learning, Fuller said.
Most students at Forest Park come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Although families may have phones with Internet access, a study of school families several years ago showed that few had Internet access in their homes. Using the devices at school would not only enhance teaching but also make students familiar with technology that is increasingly becoming integral to life in the wider world.
In the end, they decided, Fuller said, “If we have a way to get the technology in the hands of our children, let’s do it.”
As it happened, the school had money from a U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grant to buy devices. Fuller and others at the school consulted with Marty Creech, the school district instructional technologist who works with Forest Park.
Creech suggested iPads for younger students and laptops for older students. It’s easier for younger students to create on iPads, he said, and the laptops expand the possibilities for older students, including the ability to do such things as create and edit videos.
About a year ago, Forest Park committed to buying devices for the 590 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The iPads and laptops arrived during the summer. Fuller took the necessary steps in the proper order to make sure that it all worked as well as it could, Creech said.
“Falicia did it right,” he said. “She made sure all of her teachers were trained. She focused on the curriculum first. The instruction and staff development came first. Then you bring in the tools.”
Before school started, teachers and teacher assistants came in for training. They started with the basics. One question they learned to answer, Dooley said, was “What are you going to do when you hand it to the kids?”
Everyone learned routines for giving the devices to students and for taking them to the media center, art class and other places so that both students and the teachers and teacher assistants would be comfortable.
Fuller and Dooley established a tech team made up of 15 staff members. They looked at the school’s curriculum and at ways that the devices could be integrated into the teaching process. Once the school year began, the learning process continued with Tech Tuesdays in which staff members meet to have questions answered and to share with others ways they were discovering to use the technology.
“We are so proud that our staff has been so willing to take this on because for some of them they have had to really step outside of their comfort zone,” Fuller said.
Students quickly learned the necessary skills.
“Even as 5-year-olds, they picked up on the use of iPads so quickly it amazed me!” Cain said. “Since the integration of 1:1 technology in my class, I have seen a growth in student engagement and achievement.”
As many adults have discovered, young people today immediately grasp technology in ways that may elude adults, and it didn’t take long for students to start showing their teachers the proper way to do certain things.
Dooley reported that one student said to a teacher, “It’s OK. I’ve got your back.”
Students have taken good care of the devices, Fuller and Dooley said. Only one device has broken this year and that had nothing to do with carelessness.
“We have been pleasantly surprised with how well the students take care of them,” Dooley said.
One of the purposes of putting technology into the hands of students is to enable them to collaborate more and to expand the scope of the questions they consider. Instead of a teacher asking them, say, the name of the 36th president, a teacher might say, “What president had the biggest impact on the Civil Rights movement?” and students could do research together.
“It’s all about collaboration and pushing ourselves,” Fuller said.
And with teachers able to interact with each student’s device, a teacher can get instant feedback on what each child grasps or may need help with.
“It helps us individualize instruction a lot more,” Fuller said.
Before, a student who was reading at a lower level than some other students might not be willing to read a particular book in front of other students because it would instantly label him or her as “slow.” Because other students cannot see what books have been loaded on a student’s device, that problem doesn’t arise with the devices.
A fringe benefit of using the devices has been an overall improvement in student behavior. “I have seen a reduction with behavior issues which I attribute to the fact that students are interested in the learning and don’t want to miss a thing,” Cain said.
The role of the teachers and teacher assistants remains uppermost. What technology does is enable them to enhance what they’re doing, Dooley said. “It’s real important to find the right balance.”
As Creech sees it, in a way the devices are secondary to the boost in morale that comes from providing teachers with all the resources they need to teach.
“The teachers are able to engage their students more with the technology,” he said. “This technology didn’t make these teachers great. It made great teachers even better.”