CASPER — Debra Park asked her students which reading strategies they planned to use during quiet reading time.
Her class had brainstormed ideas and methods for how to improve reading and vocabulary the week before. Students wrote their conclusions on large white marker boards for everyone to reference.
The boards were wiped clean, but the students weren’t at a loss. Each student held an iPad and, with a few taps and drags of the finger, recovered notes from the previous day.
Before writing their thoughts on a board, students had researched reading strategies online and talked about them as a class. They didn’t get their information from a book but from the Internet, accessed with sleek new iPads and filtered with Park’s help.
The summer semester class is piloting 12 of the popular tablet computers to explore how they can best be used in classrooms this fall. So far, they’ve used the iPads to search the Internet for information and type simple notes, but Park hopes to add applications such as a writing-prompt generator.
Technology problems prevented students from downloading applications, but Park has found ways to incorporate them into lessons, using the device’s most basic functions.
The new devices haven’t been a burden to learn. They come without an instruction manual — using them is intuitive, Park said.
“The students don’t need to have a big book,” Park said.
Park guided students toward good scholarly sources and said sorting and sifting through information teaches critical thinking.
Park had only a few days to try the iPad before class began, but her students have taught her along the way. The iPad doesn’t have a way to connect to a printer, so the students e-mailed text and print from a laptop.
Myia Flores, a student at Kelly Walsh High School, said she’s more involved when using the iPad.
“It’s what’s new — it’s a new way to learn,” she said.
Summer semester is only a few weeks, so the students will likely read contemporary short stories, which can be hard to find in books. Students are taught not to write in books in school, and many students don’t take in-text notes because they have to erase them later, Park said. Electronic screens allow students to highlight and make notes on “pages” to be saved for later.
Above all, the technology alone can hook students into learning, Park said, and it’s what they’ll use in the workplace and college.
“There are many different ways to learn things,” Park said. “Not everyone can learn the way I did. Things have changed.”
Students were excited to use the new tool, but it hasn’t stopped them from reading real, ink-on-paper books.
“There’s a permanence and different kind of allure to reading a book,” Park said. “Maybe we have to learn to cycle back and forth rather than say, ‘This is evil, we’re not going to use it.’ ”
The iPads are not part of the Natrona County School District’s “high access” program, which provides laptop computers for every student and teacher in grades six through 12 beginning next year.
Students borrow new Apple MacBooks and return them at the end of the school year.
Not all classes are permitted to take them home, and parents can request that the computers stay at school.
Parents have been concerned with how laptop use is monitored in the classroom.
Internet monitoring software won’t run on the iPad, but Park said she can better observe student behavior with iPads. Instead of seeing the backs of computer screens, she sees how students hold and use the iPads.
If students are typing when they’re supposed to be reading, they’re not working.
When Park’s class uses district computers at summer school, she has to wheel a large utility cart down the hall.
Sometimes the computers aren’t charged. The iPads hold their charge longer and can be carried in a small trunk.
The laptops can be too much, have too many bells and whistles that aren’t fully utilized. Allyce Rocco, a student at Natrona County High School, wants an iPad. Her laptop is too big to carry around. She prefers the iPad.
Is it hard to read on a screen?
“Nope, because you can enlarge it,” Rocco said. She pinched her thumb and forefinger together and spread them apart.
“You just do this and the text gets bigger.”
The iPad retails for $499, less than the cost of many new laptops. While it’s unlikely the district would swap laptops for iPads, the handheld device has a place in Natrona County classrooms, said Mark Antrim, associate superintendent for facilities and technology.
“Whether it’s an iPad or some other device, we know we’re bound to change it somewhere down the road,” Antrim said.
More students will be able to use iPads next year. Mills Elementary School has already used them to teach reading, using an application that allows students to record how they read and listen to themselves. The iPads were purchased through the state extended-day program grant that includes winter break and summer school.
Transitions credit recovery program will use them next year, but it’s not known how, said Principal Tammy Ray. Ray hopes to work out the kinks and find good applications this summer so they can be used in the fall.
“It’s not how to use them,” Ray said. “It’s what needs to be on them to maximize the students’ learning experience.”
Contact Jackie Borchardt at jackie.borchardt@ trib.com or 307-266-0593.