“You’re really limited only by your creativity and imagination.” That’s how one Bethel teacher describes the educational possibilities of pairing every student with their own iPad. And that’s exactly what the district is doing right now. By next year, Bethel will have completed its three-year rollout of approximately 17,000 tablets as part of its 1:1 iPad program.
The ambitious program was funded by a 2014 voter approved technology levy meant to teach students the four C’s: collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. The initiative has been a resounding success, and Bethel teachers are busy exploring new and exciting ways to use the tablets.
Technology continues to advance at light speed, and school districts that don’t keep up risk being left behind. After poring over research and expert testimony, Bethel policymakers agreed that equipping every student with an iPad would give them the best chance to compete in the global marketplace of ideas.
Mary Kolowinski and Allison Horak teach highly capable students as part of the Endeavour program at Naches Trail Elementary. Their classrooms will be part of the final iPad rollout next year, and both teachers say the tablets will be instrumental for their popular and successful Lego robotics program.
“Besides being able to program on it, the iPad gives students the perfect ability to document their journey through what they’re doing,” Kolowinski said. “They have the ability to do videos of what programing works, take pictures of things, make slide shows, and just work together and share things with other people.”
The teachers say having high-tech tools like iPads in the classroom will allow educators to open up their teaching playbook and really explore unique ways of learning.
“It covers every aspect of the curriculum in some way,” Horak said. “This is one of those opportunities where you’re really limited only by your creativity and imagination.”
In talking about the differences between learning with iPads versus learning the “old fashioned” way, Bethel Chief Technology Officer Michael Christianson uses the example of students creating posters or book jackets for a class assignment. In years past, kids would physically draw or cut out images to make their poster, whereas today’s students have access to high-tech multimedia programs and vast internet resources.
In addition to the skills they learn creating the digital poster, today’s students are also taught to only use credible sources, such as images that don’t violate copyright rules.
“They utilize critical thinking skills to determine what makes a quality, engaging multimedia production,” Christianson said. “All this in the time it takes to color a poster.”
Shawn Foote, who teaches language arts at Challenger High School, has first-hand experience in how students can flex their creative muscles with the iPads.
“The iPads genuinely do give us the chance to have a writing component and have a personal creative component, which I truly believe gets them more invested in their final product and maybe even a more relatable experience for the students so they’re actually learning what you want them to learn,” Foote said.
The idea of purchasing thousands of iPads seemed revolutionary to some, and not everyone was originally supportive of the plan.
Cedarcrest Middle School math teacher Jeremy Wallace admits he was initially a little apprehensive about introducing the tablets into his classroom. That changed when he began to see how effective and powerful the iPads could be for his students. And it wasn’t just a matter of learning math, either — it was also about learning communication skills and digital citizenship.
Like so many of his fellow educators, Wallace wants his students to understand and adapt to the ever-expanding world of technology. While his focus is on math, he understands that feeling comfortable with a wide range of technology is fast becoming a necessity in life.
“We need kids to be literate with technology. We need kids to be exposed to being responsible with technology,” he said. “iPads are just a tool for us to communicate and for us to learn.”
The district’s overarching responsibility, according to director of digital learning Dawn Moye, is to prepare students for the future. That’s a big job, especially when you consider how quickly new professions are being created and old professions are being reimagined thanks to changing technology.
Essentially, today’s kids need to be prepared for a world that doesn’t yet exist. One way to ensure they’re on an even playing field with fellow students around the world is to give them access to the technological tools that are helping shape tomorrow’s industries.
“By providing all of our students access to technology, we are creating an environment that fosters highly-skilled, time-tested instructional strategies while developing the problem-solving, technology and research skills that are expected in today’s world,” Moye said.
Few aspects of education are more important than keeping students engaged with what they’re learning. The days of a teacher standing in front of a dusty chalkboard and giving a dry lecture about reading, writing and arithmetic are long gone.
Today’s students need mental stimulation and they need to be challenged. The introduction of iPads has allowed for a type of robust, creative learning that hasn’t previously been available to teachers.
There is no panacea for bored or fidgety students, but giving them access to tools and applications that are both visually and intellectually stimulating can help keep them focused on what they’re learning.
“I think the kids have been much more engaged. It allows me as a teacher to be much more creative and always thinking,” said Thompson kindergarten teacher Laurel Clark, whose students use their iPads to scan QR codes and check math problems.
The exponential growth in consumer technology has meant parents and educators have to be even more vigilant to keep children safe from inappropriate websites. When Bethel initially began discussing the idea of equipping every student with an iPad, some parents were understandably apprehensive about how much access their children would have to the unfettered internet.
District officials took those concerns to heart and made sure that all objectionable material would be blocked. They also gave teachers the ability to control which apps and programs students had access to during class time.
The district takes the time to vet every educational app or program before it is introduced to the classroom, which allows teachers to feel comfortable with the tools they’re using.
“We’re making sure they’re always safe. Not just how they’re using the iPad, but what they have access to as well,” said teacher Anna Shown of Kapowsin Elementary.
Teachers also have access to the Apple Classroom app, which allows them to lock students into a curriculum app or website. They can also monitor what’s happening on the student devices, or lock the device entirely when students need to listen or collaborate as a group.