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December 3, 2013

Technology grows in Sidney with move toward iPad-based learning

The Daily Star

---- — The Sidney Central School District has implemented a 1-to-1 iPad Initiative for the 2013-14 school year, giving every student in seventh through 12th grade an Apple iPad to use. The technology will be used in conjunction with Schoology, a learning management system.

Students and parents signed permission slips, which outlined expectations and policies for acceptable use.

According to a media release, teacher training on the new system has been ongoing for the past three years and instruction will start to be migrated to a more 21st century platform.

Mackenzie DeCocker, a seventh-grade physical science teacher, has taught science for 12 years. She’s using the iPad in class for the second year.

The technology has proven to be invaluable in helping her students, DeCocker said in a media release.

“In the past, when drawing atom structures, we’d use chalk and a chalkboard or a whiteboard,” she said. “It would take a tremendous amount of time. With the iPad, we learned to draw atoms in about five minutes.

“They can visualize the particles and see the energy in the atom,” she said.

The benefits outweigh the negatives. In a society that is becoming more and more driven by technology, teachers can use the iPads for engaging, relevant, and age-appropriate resources to enhance the learning experience, DeCocker said.

On top of that, it gives students a mode of communication.

In one of her classes, DeCocker gave a quick quiz, one which the students can see whether he  got the question right as soon as they answer. Assessments can be created for immediate feedback and grades can be accessed.

The release told of Thomas Cartossa, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Sidney, who created an avatar in an application called Tellagami. He created a cartoon-like presentation to show how he uses an iPad during science class.

It’s also somewhat second nature to students. Cartossa zipped around the iPad, showing off educational programs, how they work and how he uses them for classwork and homework.

“It’s great,” Cartossa said. “It’s been a lot easier for me to get my notes for class. You don’t have to use a pen and paper.”

DeCocker said the iPads also speed up the learning process as students will go through assignments quickly. If they finish, they have certain apps — learning-tool games — they can use until the next part of the lesson starts.

“They learn so fast,” she said. “I’m able to provide more enriching content. There’s not as much time spent copying notes.”

There are a few downfalls — but ones DeCocker said she isn’t upset about, such as the time needed to research resources and to convert previous materials into digital format. Because students are learning quicker, it’s also a challenge to provide more enriching content.

“That’s a good problem to have,” she said.

Teachers also need to make sure students know iPad etiquette, so they know what they can and can’t do on a school-owned iPad.

“You have to give them specific boundaries,” DeCocker said. “You have to teach them because they have the universe at their fingertips. You have to be watchful.”

The district used bulk pricing and Board of Cooperative Educational Services aid to offset the cost of the iPads.

Sidney used a collaborative purchasing program, which means the total cost for the district is very similar to what the cost of annual textbooks and instructional material normally would be.

The cost of the iPad is essentially the same amount as five to six textbooks.

The iPads are a step toward moving students using iPads as textbooks. Sidney Superintendent Bill Christensen noted the school is looking to have many more digital books through the library.

“The educational field has seen a tremendous amount of growth in the past few years, and most of it is positive,” Christensen said in the release. “What has really changed is the technology in the schools. Classrooms, libraries, and just about everywhere in schools, have started to rely on technology more and more.”