DOWNERS GROVE – Not long after lunch Thursday, sixth-grader Mason Taylor and his classmates sat in groups of three, each researching sharks on tablet computers.
“They’re way more powerful than I thought they would be,” he said. “They’re so small, it’s surprising.”
Taylor was referring to the diminutive cigar shark, the fish his group chose to research, but he could also have been describing the iPad Minis his class is using as part of District 58’s pilot “1:1” program.
This school year, about 1,470 students in the district get iPads to use in the classroom and take home at night.
Over the next several months, district officials will compile anecdotal and numerical data to see if the electronic devices improve learning outcomes, attendance, behavior and other goals in the pilot classrooms. After review, District 58 may decide to expand the program to all students, District 58 Director of Technology Scott Meech said.
Each device, protective case and software costs about $400, Meech said. If expanded districtwide, he said the devices likely would be replaced every three years.
District 58 superintendant Kari Cremascoli said the pilot project was funded by re-allocating funds in the technology and curriculum budgets, and neither budget was increased to pay for the iPads.
Tight district budgets are predicted in two years, due to low returns on investments and delinquent state payments. Cremascoli said the district will focus on educational outcomes when deciding whether to continue the program.
“At this point, we don’t anticipate the continuation of the program to be a solely financial decision,” she said.
In the classroom, electronic devices can save teachers time that would have been spent distributing and organizing papers and materials, Meech said.
But it’s important for the district that the iPads don’t simply substitute a book or pencil, he said, but also augment, modify and redefine learning in the classroom, a model referred to as SAMR.
In practice, this might mean that if a student is taking notes on an iPad during a presentation, the experience is augmented by their ability to take use the device to take pictures of the presentation, which could jog their memory later, or record audio of the person speaking to which they could refer back.
Taylor and his peers in Ashley Bidlencik’s Kingsley School classroom will take their shark research and write papers, but then take it a step further using the iPads, creating multimedia iMovies using audio voiceovers, pictures and video.
His classmate Marlo Rachie has made iMovies on a variety of topics this school year, she said. For the shark video, she is considering filming “interviews” with stuffed animals to convey the info to her classmates.
Bidlencik said the devices are integrated into lessons throughout the day.
“We have learning targets every day,” she said. “The kids have to be able to show me that they learned what the target was that day, and we use our iPads to do that. I give them a variety of options to show me what they learned. Everybody learns differently. Some are visual learners; some are verbal learners.”
Belle Aire Elementary School second-grade teacher Tara Fulton said she appreciates the device’s mobility in addition to the collaborative possibilities.
“We’re doing an activity where we’re studying science and insects right now,” she said. “This allows us to take the device outside and use the camera, and the come in and create a nonfiction text based upon it.”
Teachers like Fulton and Bidlencik had to apply for their classrooms to be part of the pilot program. The teachers now meet with the district on a regular basis to provide feedback and suggestions regarding the program.
“It’s exciting to watch kids create already,” Meech said. “Even though we’re only in the end of our third week, we’re seeing the results of all that hard work.”