The Liberty County School System waves goodbye to pesky paper cuts with the launch of new digital course materials in both high schools this fall — at least for three classes.
Rather than replace the outdated textbooks previously used in some classrooms, district administrators opted to go the technological route with iPads and a digital curriculum.
“The teachers have been working hard all summer,” said Patti Crane, the executive director of technology and media. “We’re looking forward to hitting the ground running with it. The teachers are committed, and I think you’ll find the students will benefit greatly from the time and contribution these teachers have made.”
This year, three predominately freshman classes — environmental science, world history and coordinate algebra — try the switch to digital, but Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said she expects to see the program grow.
“I foresee us expanding it a few courses each year until all of our courses are done digitally, but it’s going to take some time,” Scherer said. “It does take time and money, but we are so pleased with what (the teachers) put together; I think we will continue to do that.”
Over the summer, a team of teachers, a curriculum specialist and a technology specialist worked to develop an up-to-date curriculum, Crane said.
In May, Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers said the district was looking to furnish 26 teachers with the technology, supplemental materials and applications to support 780 iPads at an estimated $480,000.
Bradwell Institute environmental science teacher Sharyl Eastlake said she is excited to see the eighth-graders who used the tablets in their science classes last year continue with the technology.
In January, the district introduced the devices in middle school science classes as part of Project Galaxy, funded through a $1.35 million Department of Defense Education Activity grant. The next phase of the three-year grant will place the tablets in middle school math rooms this year.
“Oh, they’re going to be excited,” Eastlake said. “All eighth-graders that were in this county last year had iPads in their hands in their classes, and this will be a continuation into high school.”
The biggest challenge presented by the change to digital course material was for the teachers, not for the students, Eastlake said.
“Going from a real, printed textbook to all digital resources is hard for older teachers because we’ve always had a textbook in front of us,” Eastlake said. “We like the feel of the pages, the smell of the books. It’s more of a challenge for the adults than it is for the students because they were born in the digital age.”
One distinct advantage of using a digital curriculum instead of print is the ability to tailor the material to an individual child’s needs, Eastlake said.
“Differentiation is a big buzzword in education, and the teachers in our county have been learning about differentiation for a long time,” Eastlake said. “This is a perfect way to differentiate because you can get articles about the environment in any reading level. You can tailor their education for them by finding articles and books that are maybe on a more appropriate reading level.”
The team that worked so diligently on the course material this summer expects to see improved interest, participation and test scores, according to Scherer.
“We know that students are much more involved and much more motivated with digital content, so it was a matter of putting all the pieces together and saying, ‘Let’s try it,’” Scherer said. “Our science scores went up with the eighth-graders last year, and even though the test was given about three months after we started the iPads, we think that is the reason. We do know that technology motivates students to be more involved and more energized about learning.”
This year will serve as a trial to see if performance improves with the addition of the tablets in the three classes.
Jordan Crumling, a student entering ninth grade at Bradwell this year, was introduced to tablet-based instruction during the last school year when the Galaxy Project placed iPads in middle school science classes.
Although he complained that his teacher did not let students play games on their iPads and forced them to work on their schooling, Crumling said he preferred using the tablet to a textbook.
“It’s way better to use an iPad, definitely,” Crumling said. “They’re much easier to get your work done because you don’t have to go through the pages and if you lose something, you can just pull it right back up.”