iPads for all: Langley students swipe their way into 21st century

Langley Middle School student Bailey Todd shows off her creations in the Sock Puppets app for the iPad. Bailey and the other 111 seventh grade students will pilot the iPad program this year.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Langley Middle School student Bailey Todd shows off her creations in the Sock Puppets app for the iPad. Bailey and the other 111 seventh grade students will pilot the iPad program this year.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

The stack of iPads may as well have been candy. Deann Ross’ 30 Langley Middle School students fidgeted at their desks and on their chairs as she explained the rules.

Do not get on the Internet.

Make sure to return the iPad to the charging rack.

Explore the apps and functions.

As if the kids needed permission to follow that last rule. The kids grabbed the tablets, sat down and powered them on. They unlocked the screen with a swipe of the finger and accessed a world of technology that 10 years ago was unimaginable. Now, it’s in the hands of 112 seventh-grade students at the middle school.

“I was in high school and VHS came out,” Ross said. “These kids have grown up with this technology.”

Classes across the middle school were going through the same thing Thursday. After months of planning and preparation and years of accruing the almost $1 million to buy the equipment, the iPads were finally in the first stage of improving education and learning access for students. Ross and the middle school iPad teacher committee of Mary Bakeman, Rosemarie Donnelly, Kathy Gianni, Rocco Gianni, Rachel Keizer and Tom Sage - informally called the iTeam — had to delay rolling out the tablets a month.

“Nobody had used an iPad before,” Ross said.

“We worked out a lot of issues, which was good for them and for us.”

While most students toyed with the Sock Puppets app, played chess and snapped pictures and distorted the images, a couple of intrepid learners were digging into the iPad’s abilities. One seventh grader in Ross’ class watched a TED Talk about the Internet and another looked at molecule structures. With camera and video capability, Ross envisioned field research uses for the iPads.

Ben Watanabe / The Record | Students tinker with iPads in Deann Ross’ class. Langley Middle School will integrate the tablets into its seventh grade curriculum.

“We can use it as a tool and as intervention and enrichment,” she said. “We can go out into the field and they have an instant video and photo device with them.”

Photography and videography was important to Bakeman, too. As a language arts/social studies teacher, Bakeman highlighted apps like HaikuDeck for poetry, maps and This Day in History to educate students.

“We’re hoping that kids will be engaged. They’re already excited since they’ve been looking at the apps,” Bakeman said. “I’m excited because this is a 21st century skill.

“We live in a world of technology. We want to put the right tools in the hands of our students.”

The South Whidbey School District also wants to move away from textbooks. District Superintendent Jo Moccia told the school board this summer she had designs of reducing use of costly textbooks that need to be replaced periodically, especially for social studies (history is written every new day).

A user contract was created for students to have the right to have an iPad. For now and until the next semester, students will leave the tablets at the school. By February, students may be allowed to take the iPads home, which is one of the district’s hopes. Using the iPads is a privilege, however, and one students have earned.

Students practiced caring for the $300 tablets earlier this school year with “iPlant” radish seedlings, which they carried throughout a school day, then had to return the plants to their homeroom, which is where the iPad charging stations are located.

“They have the procedure down,” Bakeman said.

Board Member Fred O’Neal has championed improving students’ ability to learn at any time and any place. By giving kids iPads, documents, projects, research, the Internet and other resources are just a fingertip away. Judging by the way students held and played with the tablets, teachers won’t see much resistance to assigning iPad homework.

“The students are really excited to start carrying them around,” Bakeman said.

Middle school age students have grown up with handheld Apple devices. The original iPod in 2001 at most held 10 GB, was basic white with a black and white screen. Three years later and color is added to the screen, increasing six times in hard drive space while shrinking in physical size. Now, the tablet iPad connects to the district’s wireless network, streams audio and video, takes pictures and video and updates itself. Given the changing nature of the available apps and functions, the teachers are counting on learning a thing or two from their students.

“I’m hoping they’re going to teach me a lot, because I’m sure they know more than I do,” Bakeman said.

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