Chatfield Elementary School student Abby Dahley uses her iPad for learning in many of her classes.   GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Chatfield Elementary School student Abby Dahley uses her iPad for learning in many of her classes. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Student engagement?

There's an app for that.

"The students have already started to use online discussion boards. These discussion boards allow the teacher to post a question. The students can respond to the question and then they can reply to their classmates' responses as well - the discussions can be fully monitored by the teacher," explained Kristy Cook, the Chatfield Elementary School technology coordinator.

She feels the use of the new iPads and applications on them has been a great way to get discussions going, both in and out of the classroom, for the first through eighth grade students in Chatfield.

"This is a skill the students will need to be proficient at when going on to college since numerous college classes require students to actively participate in online discussions," she added.

For the past year, the Chatfield school district's administration and board have been in its own discussions about how to bring technology to the classroom. The consensus was that it was wisest not to rush into purchasing an iPad for every student, but to obtain one for upper elementary and junior high students, classroom iPads for lower elementary and to allow high school students to bring their own netbooks or tablets if they own one.

"Fourth through eighth grade students have one-to-one iPads, and the kindergarten has four per classroom, the first through third classrooms have around seven to eight iPads to use in each of the classrooms, and all of the classes that went one-to-one received their iPads the first week of school," Cook stated. "The staff had around 21 hours of training this summer, and the students also received some training throughout the first weeks of school, which is ongoing."

Foremost, the advance allows students to complete homework and turn it in digitally. According to Cook, "The students are able to receive and turn in their homework through a program called Schoology. The teacher posts their assignment or worksheet. The students can download it to their iPad, complete it and turn it back into the teacher. The students are able to collaborate with each other, create projects to demonstrate their learning, and research topics instantly."

Cook elaborated that while the iPads are fun devices, the students are also doing a lot of learning on them.

"They are truly making learning fun and allowing teachers to differentiate their instruction," she said. "These iPads are allowing us to teach our students how to be successful after high school by promoting the use of 21st century learning skills."

Meredith Keefe's fifth graders have used their iPads for spelling, vocabulary skills and practice, creating presentations about language, homework and classwork including worksheets, projects and writing assignments, and they seem to find doing so far more exciting and interesting than using paper and pencil.

Keefe said, "iPad technology should not only enhance your lessons but enrich learning and engage students by creating an atmosphere of higher level thinking. I like the iPad programs like Nearpod, which is a presentation app, because I can get instant, reliable feedback about how well students are understanding concepts I am teaching. It's a great resource that helps me better gear my teaching for them."

Furthermore, she noted, "Students are much more excited to use iPads then typical pencil and paper, while I still use a combination it's exciting to see kids get excited about learning and it's fun to watch them learn and having a blast doing it."

Sixth grade teacher Kathy Hanson's students use their iPads in language arts and social studies. "In language, the students have been journaling on an app called iDiary," Hanson explained. "This enables the student to type, add photos, draw pictures and add stickers to make their journaling creative and personal to them. I also plan to use several other apps that will let students plan stories, create plays and movies. This is very exciting for my language classes...to continue to give them more creative venues to enhance their writing."

Her students have become more organized in their social studies class because they can use Schoology. "(It) enables the students to work on assigned worksheets and then turn the worksheet in from their iPads," Hanson said. "This helps cut down on the number of paper copies and it helps with students being organized. Technology is a wonderful tool that helps our students study for spelling, be organized in social studies, and stretch their creative minds in language. I feel a great amount of gratitude to our district for providing the iPads and Mrs. Cook for her training the teachers and students."

Junior high social studies teacher Lee Becker uses his students' iPads for discussions, looking up information, assignment completion and submission, all online.

"Right now, students will be completing and reviewing a study guide for an upcoming test," he said. "In social studies, it's the instantaneous access to information...all students can be held accountable to be looking up information for classroom discussions, and we will be doing a research project in which all aspects, including the final presentation, will be completed using their iPads. We will also be utilizing them in our research project between the English and social studies departments."

Cook, Keefe, Becker and Hanson all observed that students find themselves distracted by the "toy aspect" of the digital technology in their hands, but the challenges of directing young scholars away from playing with the iPads during class are far outweighed by the educational benefits they offer.

Becker stated, "This is the world our students will be learning, working and living in. Our job as parents and educators is to do all we can to prepare them for the future. Technology isn't going to go away."

Keefe agreed, "Technology is the future. Students need to learn skills more so than facts. While facts are important, any fifth grade student with Internet access can learn about the Revolutionary War or physical science fairly easy."

She concluded by saying the ability to find reliable sources about a topic, critically evaluate this information, grasp higher level thinking concepts and to be able to communicate those thoughts to others is essential in today's world.

"The iPad is one tool to help us do that. It is an amazing opportunity and I am so glad Chatfield Elementary has this opportunity to use these great tools," Keefe stated.