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9/25/2013
Schools shake up tradition with new tech
Trace Sasser and Tyrel Cook work on a math assignment on Monday at Point Higgins Elementary School. This school year is the first that Point Higgins has had a one-to-one technology program, which means an iPad for every student. Staff photo by Nick Bowman


By MARJORIE CLARK

Daily News Staff Writer

Take a look in any of the classrooms at Point Higgins Elementary School, and it is probable that iPads will be in use.

During a regular meeting of the Ketchikan School District in September, the board approved a purchase of 30 Macbook Air computers and 60 iPads, along with Apple Care support, for $62,100. This was the latest in a string of technology purchases made by the district.

Schoenbar Middle School has a laptop for every enrolled student. Ketchikan High School has computers for use in various departments. Ketchikan Charter School received 120 Chromebook computers in April. The district's elementary schools have been outfitted with Apple laptop computers and iPads.

In some instances at Point Higgins, iPads are replacing textbooks, in addition to offering supplemental material to the prescribed curriculum. In the fifth-grade classes, some students’ devices double as a math textbook. In Wendy McLaren’s fifth-grade class, the students worked math problems together, while looking at a web browser navigated to the math textbook projected onto a large screen at the front of the room. At each of their desks, an iPad was showing the same webpage.

In Linnaea Troina’s fifth-grade class, some students used the iPad for their math problems, and others preferred the textbook. Student Dylan O’Bryan said he liked the physical textbook better, because he could turn right to the page he needed, instead of scrolling through the pages with his finger on the iPad. Kelsey Hamilton said she liked the iPad better because it was faster. While both have a specific preference, the point is that they have options, and are able to decide which is better for their learning style.

"The trick is getting kids to really evaluate, not just the website or the information they are looking at, but what’s going to be the best way to share the thing they learned," said Karen Updike, Point Higgins’ library media specialist. "And maybe it’s to cook a pie, and not use the iPad."

Updike said the only difficult part about incorporating the new technology has been teaching the students to change their vocabulary when they use the mobile devices. Instead of "playing games," she said they use an application to learn math, which can be fun.

"We try to get them to have the perspective that they are learning, and not get carried away with it," she said.

Point Higgins’ principal, Sheri Boehlert, said the school is working toward the device becoming simply another tool in the classroom, and not something novel and new, which becomes disruptive to the students’ learning process.

The disruptive nature of the new tool is monitored by teachers and staff. Each student is assigned an iPad to use during the day, so every device has only one user during the year. If pictures are taken using the Photo Booth app, or non-sanctioned web-browsing occurred, staff and faculty would be able to trace the activity to one student in order to address the issue with them directly, instead of involving the whole class.

Teachers are able to disable specific applications on the iPads that may cause problems, such as the camera and Photo Booth apps, or apps and documents that are not being used. Troina explained the iPads are linked to her desktop computer, allowing her to disable any app or function on all the devices at once, with the click of her mouse. This software allows teachers to respond to disruptive actions immediately.

Boehlert said the iPads are used in intervention programs to provide additional study tools or during reward time for good behavior. She cited success in practice using fine motor skills and supplementing education programs for students with special needs as positive aspects of the technology integration.

The school also uses a computer lab in the library, as well as 30 Macbook Air computers, to teach keyboarding and word processing.

Updike said she taught keyboarding to third-grade classes last year for the first time. This year, they are thinking about introducing the "home row," — A-S-D-F-J-K-L-; — to second-grade classes.

"The tricky part for us right now is what do we want to be our final product," Updike said. "What are we printing and what are we turning in electronically, and how we wanna teach that to kids?"

This year Updike is hoping to introduce ListenAlaska to the students, which gives access to the state library’s collection of ebooks and audiobooks to each student.

"The trouble with it before was that not every kid had a device. So you have kids who used that service, but it was because their families could buy a device," Updike said. "Now that every kid has a device, they use their own library number and pin. They go in and put books on hold, and they can get an audiobook or a digital book."

She said the constant issue is figuring out how to adapt their teaching process to make room for electronics and new tools.

"We need to somehow get that machine to be part of our social interaction with other people, and not let it be just us and the machine," Updike said.