Students at Elkridge Landing Middle School are taking part in a new, expanded program that is putting the newest technology in the palms of their hands.
The Elkridge middle school was the first in the county last year to implement an iPad pilot program among seventh-graders. This year the program has expanded, and soon all students — approximately 733 of them — will have an iPad of their own.
"We're very excited about this," said Elkridge Landing Principal Gina Cash. "The very nature of a tablet device — it works like their brains do. Students don't always want to be sitting and listening to 20 minutes of lectures; they just want to get in and try what they're learning for themselves. It lets them be more flexible and adaptive learners."
The school system started looking at an iPad program to see how the devices would "shift teaching and learning practices" among staff members, said Julie Wray, Howard County Public School System's coordinator of instructional technology. With the program, every teacher also got an iPad to complement their instruction. As soon as waivers are turned in by the students, iPads will be distributed to the classrooms (or in the case of the eighth-graders who participated in the program last year, re-distributed) in the next week or two, Cash said.
"They were able to change how they teach, plan and deliver instruction," Wray said. "And now, the students are able to create content and demonstrate their knowledge in more ways than before."
Through the program, which cost the school system $354,504, each student receives an iPad for educational use. They can take the iPad home with them, but students and parents must sign a waiver to do so and are responsible for damages. The iPads are subject to content filtering — no YouTube or personal emails, for example — and students can't download additional applications to the devices. But the iPads already are host to numerous educational applications, Wray said, some specific to certain content areas, and others that offer basic tools that can be used in the classroom.
"You can integrate all kinds of apps into teaching," she said. "There's apps like KeyNote, which lets the students create digital presentations of what they've learned, and Puppet Pals, which also allows for digital storytelling. All of these very standard apps can be applied to lots of content areas, and the more general an app is, the more it can be applied to a range of topics."
This year, Cash said, students will be reading an e-book on their iPads for the first time, which in many ways is more accommodating than a traditional book.
"If you see a word you don't know, you can click on it and a definition will pop up, rather than you having to put the book down and go get a dictionary," Cash said. "It's great for struggling readers, and a great tool in general for students. [The iPad] helps kids get comfortable with the tools they'll be using in the future, or are already using."
According to introductory surveys last year, Wray said, about 80 percent of Elkridge Landing students had access to a tablet device at home, or owned one themselves. About 50 percent specifically had access to or owned an iPad.
The program is a two-year pilot, Wray said, and right now there are no concrete plans to continue the program at Elkridge or expand it further. The school system is collecting data in the form of student and teacher surveys and test scores, and at the end of the school year a full evaluation will be conducted to see if the program works.
"This is a good time to develop our understanding of how these devices impact education," Wray said. "Once we get the evaluation completed we'll be able to make a more informed decision."
Ultimately, Wray said, the iPads "level the playing field" and let every student "have the tools necessary for a 21st century education.
"This is something they're comfortable," she said. "We've able to provide flexibility for them so they can prove their understanding in a variety of ways."