By Tamara Tellis/Staff Writer
We are in an age when just about everything is technical-related. As technology expands, it is important to keep children up to speed on their future.
Gadsden City Schools recently developed the “Gadsden 21 Technology Plan,” which provides a computing device for every student.
“At first we were looking for something that we could do [at Ray Thompson Elementary School] because when you get a school where the population is declining, the state will tell you that it’s not complicated – just close the school,” said GCS technology planning team member Jenny Moon. “But we don’t want to close the school, we want to bring our kids back. We feel that we are still strong in the area, so we thought, ‘Oh, we could do this.’ Our superintendent, Dr. Ed Miller, was the one who came up with the idea of bringing the iPads up here.”
iPads were provided to each student in the 4th and 5th grades at Ray Thompson Elementary School. The classrooms are also equipped with a cart that charges each iPad.
“We kind of looked around and we thought about laptops, but we couldn’t afford that,” said Moon. “We looked at the apps and we knew that the pre-apps were there and that we didn’t have to purchase anything. So we just decided to go with the iPads. We thought it was the sturdiest and most dependable unit.”
In future plans, the program will be expanded to all 4th or all 5th grade students in every elementary school. Each classroom will have a cart, the mats to go on top of the cart and an iPad for each student.
The program was funded by a $10,000 community block grant from legislators, while the City of Gadsden donated $30,000 and the school system contributed $7,000. Bond money will be used to purchase the equipment for the other schools that are involved in the program.
“Thompson started the beginning of this year,” said Moon. “We delivered to three schools last week that we didn’t think had to struggle with testing as much in Mitchell Elementary, Eura Brown Elementary and Walnut Park Elementary. We just got them in. We are going to wait until about the middle of March to deliver the others. We don’t want to interrupt their testing, that’s very important.”
With the Gadsden 21 plan in the works, the school system hopes to have self-directed students, more engaged students, personalized instruction, content-rich instruction, “anywhere, anytime learning,” equitable education and work force and college ready students.
“They are not tied to just what’s in that book,” said Moon. “If they are doing something, get stuck, and want to know more, they got right there at their at finger tips and go on and on. Before [the program], they just had that book. They go to the index of that book and see what else is in there about that and they don’t have any other information for it.
“Plus, when we adopted textbooks, we keep that textbook for six years. When you adopt one, you don’t get it until the next year. Basically by the time you get that textbook, it’s already out of date. But with the iPad, they have all the information and all updated information.”
The big question on everyone’s mind is how will the teachers be sure that the students aren’t using the device for entertainment purposes?
A solution already is in place for that concern.
“You can go in under preferences and you can turn off what you don’t want them on,” said Moon. “If you don’t want them on Youtube and you don’t want them on the Internet, you can turn that off and then go back and turn it on. It’s a classroom management tool. You have a lot of people that will say ‘we are just going to be playing on it,’ and I just say ‘well, what did they see when they came out with pencil and paper.’
“I read somewhere where they said, ‘that will never go over. Somebody might poke their eye out with that.’”
When the Thompson students were asked the hypothetical question, “Would they be upset if their iPads were taken away from them, how would they feel?” They all simultaneously answered “yes!” The students feel that the iPads allow them to find additional information about a lesson that isn’t in the textbooks, it is more fun than pencil and paper, they can work together on the lessons and it makes learning fun.
The teachers feel that the students are always engaged, spend more time on task and less time waiting for the next lesson and are excited about learning. The iPad apps allow the students to work on an individual level.
Fourth grade teacher Michelle Monk said that the iPads cut down on a lot of tedious copier machine use and because there are so many kid sites, she can direct them to it and get activities off of there.
“They love it,” said Moon. “We had some that were apprehensive to start with. When I first met with them, I said we could put all the technology we could purchase in your classroom, but we can’t change your classroom. Only you can change your classroom into a 21st century classroom.”