Chatfield Public Schools will be providing iPads for every student in grades fourth through eighth next year, which is creating the need for special training for the classroom teachers this summer. Kristy Cook, the technology coordinator, is working with the teachers to make sure the iPads can be integrated into the classrooms as effective learning tools rather than accessory devices.

In addition to the intermediate students each having an iPad, the kindergarten classrooms will have five per classroom, and grades one through three will have a classroom set to share amongst the grades, Cook explained.

She stated, "There are numerous uses for iPads in the classroom. We will be using them to create projects, encourage collaboration, and access online resources. We will also be able to post a lot of our coursework online in order for it to be easily accessible by both the parents and students. iPads are a great way to differentiate instruction, allowing students to move through course material at their own rate. It will also allow teachers the ability to tailor their instruction to each student."

That means that teachers must first learn how to offer iPad instruction in order to expand students' educational horizons.

"This summer, teachers have been working on learning how to operate the iPad, how to incorporate them into the classroom, and how to manage a classroom full of iPads," Cook said. "We have been focusing our trainings on an online resource called Schoology that allows us to post most of our course work online for the students to access. It also allows students to collaborate online and allows teachers to post resources for students. We have also spent time on numerous apps that allow students to create projects. Students will be creating movies, podcasts, books, music, and much more that will demonstrate their learning."

Cook's interest in technology and qualifications to train staff made her the ideal candidate to lead the training sessions.

"I have always had an interest in using technology in the classroom and strive to incorporate it in my daily lessons," she said. "For the past nine years, I have been on the district technology committee, attended numerous technology conferences, and piloted technology tools in my classroom."

Cook said all of those things led her to pursue her masters of education degree in instructional technology. It also gave her the needed knowledge and experience to become a technology trainer.

"I truly enjoy spending the time with the teachers helping them to discover ways to incorporate the technology into their classrooms," she added. "It takes a lot of work and time to plan and prepare for such a big initiative."

The fourth through eighth grade teachers have been spending numerous hours both in structured training and on their own in order to be ready for students in the fall. Cook has been spending several days of structured training throughout the summer with the grades that will be going to a one-to-one for the coming school year.

"Teachers will also be spending many hours through the school year revamping their current curriculum in order to integrate the technology," Cook said. "I will also offer three half-day iPad classes to the other elementary staff."

Though Cook observed that the most challenging part of initiating a one-to-one deployment will be managing them in the classroom, the rewards are endless and exciting.

"The most exciting thing about the iPads is the way it is going to transform the way we teach and the opportunities it provides for our students," Cook said. "The teachers will be able to easily differentiate instruction for our students, provide numerous resources for them to learn, and encourage them to create ways to present their learning. I can't wait to see how each grade/teacher/class uses the iPad, but more inspiring is going to be the ways in which the students use them to demonstrate their knowledge. Finally, I am excited to see how the student's engagement in their learning increases. Engagement is more evident when learning is fun and learning with the iPads is fun."

The staff echoed that sentiment. Geography teacher Lee Becker eagerly anticipates the iPads' implementation, as do other teachers in the Chatfield district. "What I am most excited about is the ability to help students with all the information they will have at their fingertips."

Fifth grade instructor Meredith Keefe stated, "The thing I look forward to the most about having iPads in the hands of our students is the engagement possibilities that can happen. Technology is already a large part of students' lives, and it's important to bring that interest into the classroom and use it to enhance teaching. Another exciting part is how connected with the world students can become through the use of this tool."

Kathy Hanson said, "Technology is the future of our society. Teachers need to give students tools and the skills to use those tools so that they are learning to not only be successful now but to be a success in the future. I am very excited to have the sixth grade students receive iPads this fall so that it will open up a variety of options in all subjects in the sixth grade."

Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris stated, "Our decision to deploy the upcoming iPad project was not based on a desire to compete with other schools. For us, it is an evolution of the teaching professional to adapt to the changing needs of our learners and remain in step with what skills our kids are going to need as they enter the post-secondary environment or workforce."

Harris added that he would be remiss if he did not acknowledge the fact that schools in southeastern Minnesota are progressive and have a lot to offer families who, at times, make comparisons between schools before deciding where to live.

"Those choices often include consideration of the school's ability to serve the academic needs of its students which most certainly relates to the technology attributes of its teaching and learning mechanisms," he added.

"New things are always being discovered in the educational technology world," Cook pointed out. "Throughout our training, we have found numerous tools that we will be using that will help us create a digital classroom."

She also said she and the other staff have discovered some great apps for students that will encourage them to be organized and creative, and some that will allow them to synthesize their learning.

"Right now, the amount of apps, websites, tools, et cetera that are available is overwhelming," she added. "Once the students have their iPads and have learned how to use some of the basic management tools, we hope they can start creating ways to demonstrate their learning."

Cook also shared that research has proven that the use of multimedia and technology in instruction increases students' engagement, which in turn raises test scores. For example, art instructor Kelly Puent's high school students will be able to take a digital arts class that features iPads used for graphic design, video production, illustration and cartooning.

Cook added, "By having students create their own multimedia productions, they will take on more of an active role in their learning. We are also hoping to teach the students skills they need to become good 'digital citizens.' This includes how to effectively, safely and responsibly communicate online, cite online sources, becoming aware of the benefits and drawbacks of always being connected, and much more. It is our hope that the iPads become just as important as bringing a pencil to class, and therefore, students always come prepared. Plus, they are a lot more exciting than a pencil, so that should be extra motivation as well."

The first year of the deployment will be limited to allowing eighth graders to carry their tablets with them into high school, and the program will expand one grade level per year, according to Damon Lueck, who is helping to manage the district's tech devices.

"In two years, we will re-evaluate and determine if we will expand to other grades at a faster pace or not. Aside from the one-to-one initiative, in the coming school year, there will be discussion about allowing all high school students to bring in their own laptops or tablets for classroom use, which will allow an early technology entry into some high school classes on a per-teacher basis," Lueck added. "If a teacher would like to go digital for a current course offering, students could bring in their own devices, and students that don't have personal devices could borrow some from the district's currently-owned devices."

Cook remarked that using iPads in the classroom offers continuity for children growing up in a digital world.

"They are constantly using technology at home, and when they come to school, they have to 'power down'," she said. "Instead of expecting them to learn in the way we are comfortable teaching, we need to start teaching in the environment they are comfortable learning in."

Cook also said she feels it is their job, as teachers, to prepare students for college or careers, and most colleges and careers expect individuals to have technology experience.

"We need to start the development of these essential skills in grade school in order for our students to be able to be proficient at them by the time they head off to college," she said.

Cook continued, "If our goal is to have all students succeed in the digital world, the most effective way to accomplish our goal is to provide the technology, training and the educational experiences needed to succeed. By providing the iPads, it gives all students the opportunity to increase their technology skills and access online resources."

She feels that parents should understand how much of an investment the district is making in students' futures by incorporating iPads into everyday education.

"We are spending a lot of time getting ready for this deployment next year. We realize that a lot of money is being put into this program, and we are working hard to make it an easy transition for the students in the fall. Also, we are really excited to allow more differentiated instruction for our students as well as provide them with the skills to become responsible, digital citizens."

As for the students, she concluded, "I hope the students come into the fall excited to not only use the iPads, but to be involved in a new initiative that will transform the way we are teaching. Students will be spending more time creating projects and collaborating with students. This may be something they weren't able to do in the classroom before. This will be a learning curve for all of us, but we are very excited to be able to provide this opportunity for the students."