With new technology in hand, local students may begin to see science in a different light.
Liberty County middle school science classes received their iPads this week, the first rollout from a $1.35 million Department of Defense Education Activity grant that will be awarded in the next three years.
“When they delivered them this week, you would have thought it was Christmas — and the kids, they were so happy. It was like Publisher’s Clearinghouse,” Snelson-Golden Middle School Principal Katrina Bateman said.
In all, 1,056 iPads were purchased in this phase of the grant, which will allow teachers to “redesign the learning environment,” according to a grant synopsis provided by LCSS Technology and Media Executive Director Dr. Patti Crane.
But beakers and Bunsen burners still haven’t gone by the wayside. In fact, teachers are using the technology as a supplement to old-fashioned lab sessions.
SGMS science teacher Mary Ryan stayed late Monday night to ensure she was ready to roll out the tablets to her classes.
On Tuesday, Ryan gave her eighth-grade physical science students a primer on how to use the technology, introduced them to some educational apps and gave them about eight minutes to explore the tablets.
By Wednesday, they used the tablets to document and photograph a real-life experiment with circuits to correspond to electricity lessons.
“They like it because they just naturally have an affinity for technology,” Ryan said. “I could give this exact same assignment and some paper and colored pencils and say, ‘OK, make a concept map and show me what you’ve learned,’ but they don’t like that as much, and this gives them a lot more flexibility.”
In Ryan’s class Thursday, students oohed and aahed as they discovered the Popplet Lite app, which allows them to create concept maps that integrate photos. Their assignment: reiterate the lab concepts by diagramming and explaining their lab pictures.
One student, Kristy Daniels, said she was absent for some of the earlier lessons on circuits but to catch up, she used an app that allows her to experiment with a virtual circuit-board and offers explanations.
“I thought that was very helpful for learning,” she said. “I actually caught on really quickly.”
Documenting her lab with photographs also was helpful, Kristy said, because it gives her a visual reminder of the process she used and the results she received.
Initially, Kristy — like many teachers and administrators — thought the tablets might be a distraction.
Completing each other’s ideas, students Malik Jenkins and Ashley Watson each said they believe having visuals from the app keeps them focused and engaged.
“It’s better than just listening to the teacher all day,” Malik said.
“It keeps you occupied,” Ashley said.
“And it makes the class way quieter … ,” Malik said. “And it makes you want to listen more, because you know that if you don’t, the privilege is going to be taken away.”
Teachers also have reported better behavior since the iPads arrived, Bateman added. “If you’re on task and doing what you’re supposed to, then you will be able to use the iPad in the lesson today … and that has curbed a lot of the behavior of students who are off task.”
Prior to the rollout, teachers had three daylong training sessions with the tablets, and they will have ongoing education every couple of months, Crane said. Math teachers should receive their tablets this fall, with 60 classrooms implementing the technology by the end of 2012.
Still, there are some minor kinks to work out. Currently, teachers have to access each individual tablet to grade much of the in-app work, such as the concept maps Ryan’s students made Thursday, Ryan said. In the near future, the district will be getting a program called eBackpack, which creates digital lockers that teachers and students can access remotely.
And multiple students share each device, so teachers stress the importance of not tampering with other students’ work.
“We’re still learning what we can do and what our capabilities are,” Ryan said.