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March 12, 2013 | 02:00 PMGENOA CITY — How do you educate a roomful of children and keep them captivated and at a respectable volume level?
Put an iPad mini in their hands.
On March 6, it was a low-key vibe in Heather Spears' fourth-grade class at Brookwood Middle School. That may be due, in part at least, to the fact that there was a substitute that day.
But the iPad minis likely played a greater role. Nearly every child's head was tilted downward at a 45-degree angle toward their tablets, manipulating icons with their fingers. On occasion, one would share what he or she were working on with a nearby classmate. Another child stood in front of the smart board, which displayed what was on the iPad mini screen at a much larger size.
Brookwood Principal Kellie Bohn said there's a shift in the way children are being educated.
"I think the days of the teacher up at the front of the room and everybody doing the same thing are over," Bohn said.
She said it's widely recognized now that children do not learn at the same pace or in the same way.
By fostering independent learning, students become invested in their own education. And with great resources easily available via the web, the teacher is no longer the only source of a student's information.
"Teachers used to be the ones who provided all the information to students," Bohn said. "Now, they're becoming a facilitator … coaching students to help (them) clarify their own thinking."
And the students, in theory, become more engaged.
"Technology isn't the only way to do that, but it allows them to do things we wouldn't be able to do, to work on apps and projects at their own level," Bohn said.
Students and teachers aren't the only ones sold on having iPad minis play a crucial role in education.
In an email Monday, Brookwood District Administrator Bill Lehner stated that a number of parents expressed an interest in purchasing iPads.
In fact, it's something the school is offering to district families. According to Lehner, about 35 percent of these families have chosen to buy an iPad mini — either on a one- to two-year payment plan or as a one-time purchase. Bohn said it costs parents about $400 — including the two-year service plan, a case and screen protectors.
Lehner stated the total cost of providing iPad minis to Brookwood's fourth- and fifth-graders is $47,200.
He estimated about one-third of the cost will be recovered through parents purchasing the iPads. However, the Rural Education Assistance Program (REAP) also will help. "The REAP grant is a federal program that provides assistance to small rural school districts with less than 600 students," Lehner said. "These funds may be used for a variety of activities that support the integration of technology and staff development. Approximately one-third of the cost will be funded with this program and the remaining (third) with general fund dollars."
Bohn said the middle school began providing fourth- and fifth-graders with iPad minis in late January. There are between 150 and 200 minis at the school, she said.
Bohn mentioned "one-to-one learning" — or, one technological device per child. At first, they looked at laptops, but it was cost prohibitive, she said.
Enter the iPad mini, a cheaper, smaller tablet.
Bohn said for now, the focus is to help students grow accustomed to using them, just as teachers trained a couple years prior to reaching this stage.
Currently, the iPad minis are kept at school. But it won't be long before the school takes another step toward one more effect of technological evolution — going paperless.
"The reason that we wanted to keep them here is we just wanted to make sure kids were comfortable in handling these devices," she said. "What will be good next year is homework can be done on the iPad minis. Then we won't be using our assignment notebooks anymore. It will all be on the student's device."
Now, students are engaging in several activities in which the iPad mini is being used instead of paper and a pen or pencil. Or a whiteboard.
"Instead of practicing math problems on the whiteboard, they use a whiteboard app," Bohn said. "You can actually record yourself doing a math problem, which is great for teachers."
Eventually, as fourth- and fifth-graders advance through middle school, the focus will shift from "hey, this is what you can do" to more substantial activities.
"We know technology gives kids the ability to create more things," Bohn said.
And aside from preparing children for a career as they grow into adulthood, she said there's another responsibility teachers have when it comes to educating students.
"It's life skills for an information-rich world," Bohn said. "I think we have a responsibility to be thinking about that, as well as the ethics of digital citizenship."