By Marlys Barker
Nevada school officials believe a question on a survey of patrons in the district may have been misinterpreted, and therefore the result of that question may not truly represent how most people feel about the use of technology in the district at the elementary level.
In a recent District Assessment survey, 40 percent of respondents (totaling 150 people) "disagreed/strongly disagreed" with moving 1:1 technology (computers/iPads) to the elementary level. At the same time, 222 people supported the statement.
Superintendent Jim Walker said he believes some people who "disagreed/strongly disagreed" did not understand what the district is planning to do next year at the elementary level, and may have believed the iPads would be given to every child and carried between home and school - just like students do with the laptops at the high school.
But 1:1 learning at the elementary will be very different, Walker said. The iPads the elementary is receiving will be utilized in classrooms for instruction during the school day. The iPads will not leave the school building, and the iPads being purchased will be shared; not every student will have their own.
Two Central Elementary teachers, Karen Knaphus and Marlys Swanson, are already using iPads with students this year through an Iowa Technology Education Connection grant that they received to purchase three of the devices. These two teachers have been able to see, through their work this current school year, just how valuable this technology can be, and how incredible it will be to have more students being able to utilize it next year.
"The iPads have provided additional individual practice for students in all academic areas," said Swanson. And when it comes to reading, a huge focus at the elementary level, Swanson said the iPads "have helped with all five of the essential reading components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension."
Knaphus and Swanson have used the iPads to provide alternative methods for children to share their talents through writing and illustrating stories. The apps (applications) on the iPads allow children to tell their stories, rather than having to type them (a challenge for younger students).
"The iPads will also read text to students," Knaphus said. "This does not replace reading, but it allows the children to use higher level text than what they would normally be able to read."
The two teachers are excited that their students, through use of the iPads, have been able to write autobiographies and nonfiction stories. The iPads have also been used to videotape children while they read, retell stories and give class presentations.
"The benefits we have seen from the use of this technology are the increased engagement of students who frequently feel frustrated with the challenge of reading and writing," Swanson said. "Our more hesitant students are willing to try new activities and are anxious to try new projects."
Knaphus said the iPads have allowed the teachers to make more accommodations to meet the diverse learning needs and styles of the students.
Both teachers comment on how neat it is to watch students as they tell their own story and have it appear in print right before their eyes.
As the school adds more iPads for more students next year, Swanson and Knaphus say it will be important for students to see the iPads as an educational tool, and they feel that the training of teachers before the arrival of the technology will help to make this happen.
"Teachers need to be aware of the different skills and strategies needed for understanding digital text. It’s important that district patrons understand that we don’t just give kids iPads and say, ‘Go use them,’" Swanson said. She said teachers at the elementary are already receiving training to help prepare for the use of this technology in the classroom, and a great deal of planning is going on to assure the effective use of iPads next year.
"It is a lot of extra work, but we realize the children will see the payoff as the end results," Knaphus said.