Part 3 of 5: There's an app for that: Computer use in classroom, at home

With computers in front of them, students can look up assignments, use endless resources online, or download an application to help with what they are doing. Albert Hanselman, Culver Community High School principal, said that one task students use their iPads for in the classroom is taking notes on a teacher’s PowerPoint presentation electronically. Some textbooks are online, so students use their devices to read their book in class. Hanselman said that students can also download resources such as a dictionary or calculator free of charge. He pointed out that in the past, students would have had to pay to purchase these items.
Lincoln Jr. High School principal Dan Funston said that his seventh-graders are currently reading Treasure Island online for free, saving the school $3,000 in purchasing the physical copies of the book.
“It’s a free e-book,” said Funston, adding that many classic books are available online for free.
Teachers at Lincoln Jr. High are also testing a new way of teaching — students watch a podcast (prerecorded video) of their teacher the night before,leaving more class time free for teachers to test students’ knowledge in a hands-on way. This is called “flip instruction” and many area schools are starting to do it in at least some of their classes.
“I love it,” said seventh grade language arts teacher Sarah McKenzie, observing her class take a quiz based on podcast material they had watched earlier. McKenzie said that her students are new to their computers but so far have been enjoying them.
“They think that learning is better (with the computers),” said McKenzie. “They have more freedom and more choices. Overall I think that it makes education better.”
Culver Community Middle School principal Julie Berndt said that her teachers have noticed fewer missing assignments since they began one-to-one.
“It’s fun to do their assignments on the iPad,” said Berndt. “It’s a new way of learning for the kids, and it’s a new way of teaching for the teachers.”
Far from replacing teachers, Funston said that computers have the potential to improve relationships between students and teachers.
“The power of a good teacher is in the application of the subject,” said Funston. “Teachers are working directly with kids instead of standing in the front of the room and talking.”
Students don’t email their teachers, Funston added: “If they have a question, there is still a conversation.”
At Culver Community Middle School, students do email their teachers — but teachers are the only people they should be emailing, said Berndt. She said that the school explained to students that teachers can check their email account at any time to make sure they are following the rules.
At Plymouth High School, principal Jim Condon said that students’ math, science, English, and history books are predominantly online.
They are also working on testing “flip instruction,” which is funded by a federal grant.
Using this method, students come to class already prepared to work and apply the information. For example, in a science class Condon said that students could start right away on a lab project.
By giving the students computers, “we have the opportunity to offer education 24/7, 365 days a year,” added Condon.
Angie Dunlap, P.E. and health teacher at LaVille, said that she uses computers in her classroom to make sure that students are getting the most updated information. She is also working on downloading a fitness testing application. Dunlap’s students use Moodle, an online journal, to complete assignments.
Condon also sees the computers as a preventative tool against failure. With constant assessment of progress being made, “we are not waiting until a student fails, but helping them before,” said Condon.
Phil Byers, social studies teacher at LaVille, said that he believes his students like using their MacBooks to do school assignments.
“It’s better than carrying heavy books,” he pointed out. “By and large I think (the students) like (the computers) a lot more than the books.
“They know how to use it,” said Berndt. “Kids are not afraid of (their iPads). They wear their cocoons (protective cases) proudly down the hall.”
LaVille principal Chuck Phillips said that one benefit of the computers that students use every day is finding instant information and resources. Students also use Google Docs to work on group projects. The program allows multiple computers to work on the same document at the same time. This is reflective of what students will later experience in the workplace, he said.
“They are learning how to collaborate,” said Phillips.
Hanselman said that where before students were required to purchase a dictionary, calculator, and other resources, those things can be found through an Apple application on their IPad.
“They’re all right here,” said Hanselman, adding jokingly, “there’s an app for that.”
Although computers are great, Phillips said that they will never be able to replace a human teacher.
“You still need the face in front of the classroom,” said Phillips. “If that kid over there didn’t get it, a computer can’t pick that up.”
“You’ll never replace that one on one contact,” agreed Byers.

Tomorrow: Concerns for parents: how to monitor your child’s computer use; financial responsibility