Story by Jason Meek and Kelsey Leyva
In Heather Bianco’s tiny classroom at Wait Primary School, Frank and David, two first grade students, sit quietly as they practice their recognition of sight words.
It may sound unusual for two young boys to be sitting quietly and nearly completely still, but Bianco says she can achieve this for approximately 20 minutes a day.
During those 20 minutes, students like Frank and David can use iPads the school purchased at the beginning of the school year to read eBooks and play educational games.
The school initially purchased 30 iPad minis in the fall of 2014. Two kindergarten teachers, two first grade teachers and one reading tutor each applied for and received six tablets for their classrooms.
Principal Amy Cruse said the iPads have been such a success that Wait Primary has already placed an order for 30 more to be divided among other classrooms.
The school was able to get a bulk rate of about $9,000 for 30 iPads and their cases. The first batch was paid for by the district’s technology budget, and the second was paid for by a catalog sale fundraiser.
Cruse asked the five teachers for feedback after introducing the tablets in their classrooms and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
“They couldn’t say enough about them. The kids just love them and they look forward to using them,” Cruse said. “It’s really motivating in the classroom to have them in there.”
Bianco, a reading tutor at Wait Primary, is one of the first five teachers to implement the use of iPads in her classroom and sees how they’ve helped her students learn.
“They’re just very excited to use them, and so I’ve just noticed that when they do use them, they are quick to find the words and I think that the sight word games have helped them,” she said.
Bianco supports the use of technology in the classroom, even for students at such a young age.
“I just think that it’s such an integral part of our lives today. And they’re actually better at it than I am, since they’ve had more experience with it,” she said. “In the workforce, everything’s going to be technology, so it’s good to start now when they’re young.”
LISTEN: Heather Bianco explains how she uses iPad apps in the Wait Primary reading room.
Dr. Rick Ferdig, professor of instructional technology at Kent State University, said it’s important to make sure teachers are as enthusiastic about technology as the children they’re teaching.
“What we found in our research is that if you engage the teachers and get them really excited about the use of technology, the teachers become very innovative in the ways they seek to bring technology in the classroom,” Ferdig said.
But Ferdig said technology can’t be used a crutch if it’s going to be effective.
“In a lot of case, the benefits or the disadvantages between any technology, whether it’s video games or iPads or apps or whatever, is the amount of interaction a parent or caregiver or teacher has with the student,” he said.
Principal Cruse said teachers are already noticing a change in how they connect with their students thanks to the iPads.
“What the teachers have noticed is they’ve been able to manage their classrooms so that they can provide that targeted instruction which ultimately will raise the test scores,” Cruse said. “When they are able to focus on that small group in front of them, and the other kids are engaged in something else, they’re able to give more effective instruction.”
LISTEN: Principal Amy Cruse explains how teachers apply to get iPads for their classrooms.
Cruse plans to gradually integrate iPads into every class.
“We’re rolling it out a little bit slowly so that the teachers who want them are getting them initially, and that’s working out well,” she said. “I’d love to have six in every classroom.”