iPads in CPS middle schools have benefits and distractions
COLUMBIA – The 1:1 Personal Learning Project that implements iPads into Columbia Public School’s middle schools brings new challenges for teachers and students, but can enhance student learning.
“Its just another tool to help kids explore their world,” Columbia Public Schools Manager of Technology Instruction Julie Nichols said.
All middle school students are given an iPad Mini to use to take notes, do research, work on projects, read textbooks, and do their homework.
Nichols said iPads create equity since all students have access to the same device, whether at home or at school.
“The focus of all of it is really on good teachers. And teachers being able to personalize their learning and their assignments so that kids are asking more questions and doing more project based learning and problem based learning,” Nichols said. “This just gives a tool to expand on that initiative.”
With the internet right at student’s fingertips, teachers must find creative ways to keep kids focused.
“A strong lesson overcomes distraction, that’s what it comes down to,” Smithton Middle School Social Studies teacher Marc Alexander said.
Alexander said students will tune out regardless if they have an iPad if the lesson isn’t engaging enough.
However, some students said the technology can be distracting.
“I feel like they can be great sometimes, but other times they seem to get in the way, sometimes they’re slow,” said Smithton Middle School student Zach Fitch.
Fitch said the iPads are useful when students need something quick.
“If something’s not in a textbook, we can just look it up and maybe within two minutes we could get an answer,” he said.
Otherwise, Fitch said he would rather use laptops or desktop computers for projects and school work because they’re easier and faster to use.
Smithton Middle School student Lincoln Peters said classmates often get in trouble for playing games on their iPads when they aren't supposed to.
Nichols said teachers must teach by example and refrain from using their phone and iPad if they want their students do the same.
“I have to admit I was skeptical when we rolled out as a district, iPads across the board,” Alexander said. “I questioned whether it would be meaningful, and I am 100 percent a believer now.”
Alexander said as long as the devices are used appropriately they improve student learning.
His students have used their iPad’s to create a video game based in the Middle Ages, a podcast about Africa, and for research.
“What we’ve been trying to do is utilize technology in a way that’s really meaningful to bring out the content and get students to think in an interdisciplinary way,” Alexander said.
Another problem arises with students relying on Google to answer all of their questions.
“This is a Google generation, anything you want you always Google, so that’s a challenge for teachers,” Nichols said.“It’s a change in paradigm in that we really need to teach kids how to think and how to problem solve, because anyone can Google it.”
Nichols said teachers have links to all their assignments and class resources in the learning management system Schoology, which can be accessed online.
“The kid has to be motivated to want to do it,” she said.
Nichols said it’s a group effort between students, teachers, faculty, and parents to make sure they’re learning, and not copying answers from online answer keys or the Internet.
“We’re trying to build kids to live with 21st century skills, and we want them to learn of all the different avenues of learning, not just to be successful in school, but for careers and in life,” Nichols said.
She said the district is focused on teaching students to decide the best tool for their learning style or specific project, whether it be an iPad, laptop, Google Chrome book, or pen and paper.
“We’re trying to push more on the creativity and having kids not only just consume information, but also produce information,” Nichols said.