October 27, 2013

Maranacook students are finding learning iPads are a trial, error, discovery process

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

READFIELD — “Me peino.”

click image to enlarge

Jaime Sechrist, left, and Melissa Garand work as a team to answer questions on an iPad while a screen charts their progress against other teams during teacher Kelly Frey's Spanish class on Thursday at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

Melissa Garand types in an answer during a vocabulary quiz game during teacher Kelly Frey's Spanish class on Thursday at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Freshman Molly Searway’s face, topped with a mass of messy hair, appeared on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom, projected by an Apple TV mounted to the ceiling. In the video, she made a face, brushed her hair and then held up a package of English muffins.

“Me desayuno,” she said, Spanish for “I eat breakfast.”

In other videos, students pantomimed the steps of their morning routines while narrating in Spanish, a homework assignment for Kelly Frey’s Spanish 2 class at Maranacook Community High School.

Some videos were a single, simple 20-second clip; others featured dissolves, music or voiceovers, all recorded and edited together on the students’ Apple iPads, which then streamed the videos through the Apple TV so the students could see their classmates’ work.

Students said making the videos was more fun and engaging than it would have been to write the same sentences. Frey was glad the assignment gave students another too-rare opportunity to practice speaking Spanish.

“This is standing my whole discipline on its ear, and it’s really exciting,” Frey said. “I’m being upfront with the students that I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, and they’re coming with me.”

Like their peers at Maranacook and dozens of other schools around the state, Frey and her students are going through a process of trial, error, discovery and occasional glitches as they adjust to using iPads for instruction and learning.

One-to-one computing programs, in which everyone has their own computer, are not new to Maine high schools and middle schools. But since the Maine Learning Technology Initiative launched in 2002, the computers have always been laptops. This is the first year that a tablet computer has been an option in the initiative.

Schools could choose from among three devices this year: the iPad, an Apple laptop and an HP laptop. The iPad was the least expensive and by far the most popular, chosen to be used in about 60 percent of the participating schools.

In Maranacook’s district, Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38, students and teachers at the middle school, and teachers at the high school, were already familiar with Apple computers from previous participation in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.

Between the two Apple options, RSU 38 leaders chose the iPad in large part because it was less expensive than the laptop. That was especially important because the district wanted to provide the devices to all students and teachers in sixth through 12th grades, instead of just seventh and eighth grades, for which the state pays the entire cost.

Cost wasn’t the only consideration, though. Staff also saw the iPad as an opportunity and a challenge because a tablet can — and, they would argue, should — be used in different ways than a laptop.

“When I think about the MacBook Airs, if we had gotten those, we’d be pretty comfortable,” said Diane MacGregor, technology integration specialist for Maranacook Community Middle School. “With these, there’s so much opportunity and ways to do things differently. It’s so exciting and feels really revolutionary.”

The iPad’s portability, intuitive touchscreen, built-in camera and microphone and the multitude of applications available — many of them free — make it easy to create and share lessons and assignments, Maranacook staff and students said.

There have been high-profile problems in at least two school districts in other states that attempted to distribute tablet computers to students on a large scale.

Guilford County Schools in North Carolina has suspended the use of 15,000 leased Amplify tablet because of hardware problems that created safety concerns, including melted chargers.

Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country, has a plan to spend $1 billion on iPads for every student and teacher, but a limited rollout this year has been marred by a security breach and uncertainty about costs.

(Continued on page 2)

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