eBooks and iPads and Apps oh my!

11/15/2012  |  HEATHER WILLIAMS and LEE GERMAN
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Once upon a time teachers came to class armed with chalk and books. Schools had libraries filled with bookshelves, where silence was golden, and noise was the rustle of turning of pages. Now technology has moved in, and schools are filling classrooms with iPads, iPods and computers galore. With the infinite possibilities that a connected classroom brings, teachers are having to adapt, where students have an advantage growing up in a digital age, and in some cases teach the teachers.

Tablets are being allocated to teachers across the country for their classroom, loaded with apps to make teaching activities interactive and fun. Information is effortless, no bulky textbooks or encyclopedias just type a keyword then press enter. Schools are jumping on board with the program because of the time and cost saving the iPad will generate in the future. One little device is able to store books, interactive activities and even tests for a classroom. “Kids won’t/can’t use textbooks, they have become so large and heavy most never leave the locker. As a District we are limited as to how far we can leverage technology (and reduce costs),” said Doug Cooper, Berkley County School Board member. The start-up costs for the tablet program in schools may be high, but updates and apps are relatively easy and inexpensive when compared with the effort and costs of sifting through multiple editions of heavy textbooks.

The shift from paper book to eBook sales has happened quickly in the publishing industry, and although the growth has been slightly slower in education, eBooks are gaining momentum in the classroom. Sylvan Dell Publishing in Mt. Pleasant took note, and in 2008 introduced a site license where schools could purchase access to all titles with a simple login code. Teaching activities and quizzes are ready-made for teachers, using cross-curricular methods, and aligned to common core standards, both important aspects of learning today.

Using tablet technology teachers are able to include more cross-curricular learning and tailor lesson plans to fit the needs of individual students. Marty French, principle at the Daniel Island School sees value in implementing technology. “The Common Core State Standards emphasize that the only way to get better at reading is to read, the way to get better at thinking is to interact, make connections and share ideas. Implementing eBooks is not only for the sake of reading but also for the experience of using technology. Students need to be comfortable consuming information through a digital format; it is the state of our future.”

Teachers have more freedom; they are able to individualize lesson plans, and challenge students within their own skill sets. Looking at first grade classroom, one child is in the advanced reading group she is working on independent reading of a third grade level book with a third grade vocabulary objective, this books has a quiz aligned to standards. To her left another student is struggling with vocabulary and she is working in the first grade level with a completely different set of objectives, and quiz. Each student is engaged, and learning at their own pace within their own skill sets. The same student excelling in reading may be at a first grade level in math, and the iPad is easily adapted to that skill level. In many traditional classrooms, this individual approach is not an option, and the advanced students often suffer, because the teacher must take a general approach to lessons and ensure struggling students understand the concepts; therefore, the advanced student may be disengaged from the conversation, because they are not being challenged.

Kristi Meeuwse kindergarten teacher, at Drayton Elementary tells a story of two boys, one tells the other that he saw a python in his yard over the weekend. The other disagrees and says, “Pythons don’t live here.” They grab the iPad and search pythons and find all sorts of information including the fact that pythons don’t live in South Carolina. The tablet gave five-year-olds the power to solve their problem. This power also allows them to dive deeper into the subject; where a teacher may have just said, “No, pythons don’t live in South Carolina,” an internet application will have characteristics and classification information as well as habitat.

This simple discussion between two kindergarten students demonstrates the changes driven by technology that are starting in education. “iPads, tablets, and computers are proliferating in the classroom and increasingly one to one with students. With this ratio and self-paced educational software, there is the potential for differentiated instruction down to the individual student level and within each discipline. Each child with their “digital teachers” could be encouraged to learn and advance at their own pace and this has enormous implications. Continuous assessment and on the fly restructuring of lessons to optimize for learning style and to reflect real time performance offer tremendous potential for our struggling children. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are lots of brilliant sometimes socially awkward children who might find a whole new source of self-esteem if encouraged to academically push as far and as fast as they can. And if routinely rewarded with grade advancement rather than keeping with their peer group, we might have a paradigm shift where nerds become the cool guys. Perhaps the role of teachers will shift to facilitating computer driven learning and to serve as an educational safety net helping struggling children rather than the daily teaching of the class as a whole or in groups. So many things are happening right now and it is all being driven by technology,” said Lee German publisher with Sylvan Dell.

Many applications are interactive, they have dimension and require the user to think beyond the words on a page, and with the nationwide adoption of common core standards, these materials will become more important in the classroom. Publishers of educational materials are scrambling to fill this void. “There is such a diverse difference in the eBook market, from a flat PDF to a book with some features to a high end interactive App, publishers must make choices based on content as to what bells and whistles fit with each individual titles’ text,” said German.

Sylvan Dell is launching a new iPad app this fall with language selection, read to me features, and access to all their online teaching resources that will perfectly integrate into a classroom lesson.

While tablet technology is revolutionizing the industry, traditional teaching methods are still very valid, group classroom interaction, reading from a book, hands on science and math are skills needed in society, and in future work experience. There is no doubt the iPad has limitations, from physical limitations (battery life to interactive limitations (human conversation) however when used effectively in conjunction with traditional teaching methods learning ability has soared to new levels. Statistical data is not extensively available, however teachers implementing an iPad program have seen huge impact, district administrators are paying attention, and acting quickly at all grade levels.

Read more about Kristi Meeuwse and her iPad classroom on her blog http://iteachwithipads.net/. Heather Williams is the Public Relations Manager at Sylvan Dell Publishing. Lee German is the Owner and Publisher at Sylvan Dell Publishing. Lee and his wife, Donna German, opened up their own publishing company in 2005. To learn more about Sylvan Dell Publishing and their mission, visit www.sylvandellpublishing.com.
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