Merrill Area Public Schools was among the first districts in the state to put iPads into the hands of each and every student in grades K-8. Since the deployment in November, teachers in the district have been putting the iPads to new and innovative uses.
“We don’t want the technology to be perceived as an add-on,” said MAPS technology director Keshia Mashak. “It’s really just another tool, just like a textbook was in the past, that we infuse in the classroom to provide the best opportunities for students.”
Third grade classes at Kate Goodrich Elementary School were the pilot group for the 1-to-1 technology initiative, so that group of teachers has the most experience with using iPads in the classroom. Among the uses for the iPads, Kate Goodrich third graders are currently working on “genius” projects. They use their iPads in the classroom one hour per week to research and become an expert on a self-chosen subject.
“These are independent research projects,” said teacher Sherri Schultz. “The kids come up with questions and research to find the answers. They have nine weeks to find out everything about their topic.”
Each student must produce a written report, but the iPads can also be used to create an iMovie to present their topic at the end of the quarter.
Students will each complete four genius projects during the school year.
“Each student has their own topic,” said teacher Stacy Fuehrer. “At the end of the quarter, they will present it to their classmates.”
Third grader Aubree Duellman is researching the ancient pyramids. “I like history,” she said. “I want to know what they’re made of.”
She’s using her iPad to research on the internet, type her report, make an iMovie and create music with GarageBand.
Micah Plautz is becoming an expert on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson. He’s learned some things he didn’t know about Nelson, including the college where he played football. Like the other students, Plautz started with handwriting the questions he wanted to answer before starting his project. He’ll use the iPad to make an iMovie for his presentation.
Plautz said he uses the iPad for schoolwork in a variety of ways.
“We use it every day, even in music and gym,” he said. “You can go on Classroom (a Google education app) and put stuff on it.”
“I think that’s one of the things we really like about the iPad is that it can be used cross-curricular versus just in the standard classroom,” Mashak said. “It has more opportunity.”
There are a number of apps and sites the students can use to help with their studies. Sites like MobyMax and CompassLearning are used in the district’s personalized learning efforts. Some apps such as GarageBand allow students to work collaboratively to create a project.
Third grader William Ford, while rattling off the facts he’s learned about bearded dragons for his genius project, said he enjoys having the iPad to use.
“It’s better than bringing a book home every day,” he said. William plans to use the iPad to take a picture of his own bearded dragon and make an iMovie for his presentation.
While the third grade at Kate Goodrich has been using iPads for three years, this is the first year students have been able to take devices home with them. If they have the iPad and internet access, all the tools available at school are also available at home to help with homework.
“It’s changed the way we’re doing things,” Schultz said. “These kids have never known life without technology. We’re looking at things a lot differently than we used to.”
The iPads provide a new educational tool for teachers and students to use, MAPS curriculum director Michelle Jahnke said.
“This is just the modern tool that people use to access information,” Jahnke said. “I know some people had fears that the students would be sitting by themselves working on this thing and not interacting. No, not really. You use it to look at things but you’re still having discussions, you still work collaboratively, whether it’s digitally or in a small group discussing things.”
“The technology really supports personalized learning and the vision that we have with that,” Mashak added. “It really should be a tool.”
“It’s exciting,” Jahnke said. “The teachers are excited about it, the kids are excited about it. The thing we have constant conversations about is, as we move down the road with personalized learning and we’re using the 1-to-1 technology as a learning tool, how does it change instructional practices, how does it really become a learner-centered classroom moreso than teacher directed. Those are the things that we’re focusing on, really putting the student in the center and providing the opportunities and structures that really increase motivation and engagement.”
MAPS deployed 1,800 iPads to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Post roll-out, the district determined a core of 16 creation-based apps. While the iPads can be used as a substitute for traditional tools, such as flashcards, the goal is redefinition, Mashak said.
“That’s really where the creativity comes in,” she said, “so we have apps on there that range from making movies to ebooks to accessing digital content. It’s really focused moreso on the creation based apps, so they can explain what they’re learning through using the iPad.”
The district chose 16 apps so staff support could be more focused.
“The reason for those 16 was not to limit at this point, it was to be able to provide appropriate support,” Mashak said. “And the teachers don’t need to feel like they need to know everything at this point.”
The process started last summer with staff training, which is ongoing as teachers get more comfortable with incorporating the devices into the curriculum.
“It’s a process,” Mashak said. “Everyone’s going to do their very best to support each other and transform student learning but it doesn’t happen overnight – although we’d love it to, we need to do things that are realistic.”
Jahnke said the district is looking at further opportunities to support the staff moving forward.
“We’re asking the teachers to transform their classroom. They have the 1-to-1 devices,” she said. “How are we going to support that? We’re looking at future professional development, future coaching opportunities. We’re trying to get that set up so that in the fall we’re ready to go with a really intensive professional development plan.”
“We’re still only four months in, so teachers are still in the beginning stages of transforming their lessons,” Mashak said. “They’ve never had this access before. They’re in the early stages of determining what that looks like as far as utilizing them in a meaningful way at home.”
The MAPS technology department has transformed to meet the new challenges as well, Mashak said. Two innovative learning specialists have been added to the staff, for a total of four in the district. The school libraries are also being transformed into the hubs of personalized learning.
As for the devices themselves, there have been few casualties so far.
“We actually have a less than half percent damage rate at this point,” Mashak said. “A couple of occassional cracked screens has been where our damage has been for the most part, but that’s really only three to five iPads.”
More than 80 percent of families opted to pay $35 per device for insurance against damage.
“Teachers did a really nice job ahead of time,” added Jahnke, “of preparing students on how to take care of the iPads.”
Some classes even practiced with eggs before receiving their iPads.
Students at all grade levels are now able to take the iPads home with them at night and on weekends.
The new MAPS digital use policy has largely been well-received by students and families, Mashak noted.
“To do a deployment of this size and not have expectations in place would be irresponsible on our part,” she said.
With the 1-to-1 iPad initiative up and running in the elementary schools and middle school, MAPS is now looking toward the deployment of iPad Pros to Merrill High School students. That deployment date has not yet been determined, and will be based at least in part on the release date of Apple’s next operating system.
“We are still waiting to hear from Apple to get some guidance because we know there’s a new release coming out,” Mashak said.
The new operating system is expected to drop this spring, which will be in plenty of time to get the iPad Pros in the hands of high school students for the start of the next school year, she added.
“In the meantime, we’re starting the process of how to train the staff,” Jahnke said. “That will be the first step, getting the staff set up.”
The iPad Pros were chosen for the high school because the screens are larger and a keyboard can be attached.
“Not only can we leverage a keyboard that’s more of the standard size,” Mashak said, “but we can also leverage the iOS creativity apps that are touchscreen and that we felt really would transform learning and be a better investment for the district.”
The iPad Pros also have the Apple Pencil, which can be useful in art or graphic design classes.
“You can draw, write; it’s very intuitive to the point where it can be used in more of our specialty classes,” Mashak said.
As with the iPads, MAPS will be entering a lease agreement with Apple on the iPad Pros. After four years, the district will turn in the devices for new ones.
“We want this to be a long-term sustainable plan,” Mashak said. “The lease and the refresh allows us to have the most current technology for our staff and students.”
MAPS is in constant collaboration with other districts that are embarking on their own 1-to-1 initiatives like D.C. Everest, West Allis and La Crosse.
“We’re proud to be known as a school that made this a priority,” Mashak said. “It comes down to what do we deem most important to improve student learning and provide opportunities for them. I think here, there was the momentum and leadership to get that accomplished. I think other districts want to be there and are asking us questions about how to make that happen.”