A school district in an affluent New York City suburb has implemented a program to use iPads in the classroom, far outpacing other similar technology initiatives in classroom use.
Five years ago, the Mineola school district began a program to provide all students in grades three through nine with iPads. Now teachers are using them for about 75% of their instructional time, which is a much larger percentage in other districts who have embraced technology in the classroom.
The 24 students in Morgan Mercaldi's third grade classroom at Jackson Avenue School in Mineola, New York almost never put their iPads away. Mercaldi said:
Putting them away serves no purpose. We use them constantly.
After its launch in 2010, the iPad became popular in education, writes Neil Hughes for Apple Insider, and therefore there are a variety of apps that cater to the needs of students and their teachers. The apps that Mercaldi's students use include eSpark, which aggregates a variety of apps customized for the individual student; MobyMax, which focuses mainly on math; and Edmodo, which allows them to submit assignments electronically. More apps and programs will be integrated as the program continues.
For an example of the kind of assignments that are given in this blended learning environment, Mercaldi has given her students the assignment of writing a first-person narrative about frogs. They use the iPad and books to do research, organize the information on their iPads, and then write with a pencil and paper. After a first draft, they pair up and collaboratively edit their papers.
Janet Gonzales, the principal of Jackson Avenue School, said:
I was surprised at how quickly teachers were able to really integrate it into the classroom.
Some students have trouble with the technology, writes Nicole Gorman of Education World, but most find it accessible. One boy found it necessary to bring a keyboard from home to plug in when he had trouble with the iPad's onscreen keyboard, but most problems can be solved by the third graders troubleshooting by themselves. Mineola schools offers training and technical support for the teachers as well.
According to Gail Robinson of The Hechinger Report, the technology helps the district deal with Common Core standards by assessing each student's progress individually, and also allows advanced students to move ahead and struggling students to receive extra help.
Experts say that the key to successfully implementing technology in the classroom is to use it with a goal in mind.
Heather Schugar, associate professor of education at West Chester University, says:
Are you using the iPad just to use the iPad, or are you doing it to take the teaching you're doing and do it better?
The district is also notable for collaborating with app developers. Recently, eSpark took direction from the district's middle schoolers and made some changes to the app. They're also working with the School 4 One company to make an app that compiles digital portfolios of each student to better track their progress in meeting Common Core standards.