Questar III student Virgil Wellington is using an iPad to complete an assignment at Sackett Educational Center.
More and more you’ll see it. Doctors, mechanics, pilots and others are switching from the old pad and paper to a more sophisticated tool: the tablet computer. Not only is the tablet computer useful for software and applications specific to those professions, it is proving to be useful in an academic environment as well.
This year Questar III BOCES, along with Schodack CSD, Coxsackie-Athens CSD and Open Room, a division of Classbook, a Schodack-based company that provides advisory services nationwide to help K-12 schools in building lasting digital ecosystems, has implemented a tablet pilot program with select student populations to test this theory in a classroom setting. Teachers are already reporting increased student engagement and organization, and students are excited to come to school.
A collaborative approach
Questar III and OpenRoom collaboratively supported and launched a 1:1 iPad pilot program at Schodack CSD during the 2013-14 school year for at-risk freshmen and sophomores. During that time, teachers, students and parents reported seeing a remarkable improvement in the students’ behavior. Students using the iPad actually received an average six points higher on their final exams than students not participating in the pilot program, according to Schodack CSD Superintendent Bob Horan.
The district purchased the iPads through funding sources at Questar III and donations through ClassBook., Questar III provided support for implementation through a contract with the South Kent School in Connecticut, facilitated by ClassBook. South Kent School has been a ClassBook client for 9 years and spent the last 3 years immersed in an entirely digital environment.
“We’re seeing success across the board with increased academic performance and attendance,” said Horan. “Students are much more organized than before and those students who weren’t excited about school now are.”
Given the success in Schodack, Questar III has implemented its own pilot program at its Sackett Educational Center, a high school for students with special needs, and in two Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs: Criminal Justice and Aviation. Schodack CSD and Coxsackie-Athens CSD also participate in the program, utilizing the training offered by Questar III, and the advisors from Open Room, The two districts also purchased their tablets through Questar III. Schodack opted for the Lenovo ThinkPad this time around for comparison purposes.
“The [OpenRoom] advisors have really helped us clarify our vision for this and got us thinking about professional development and capacity,” said Coxsackie-Athens CSD Superintendent Randy Squire. “They’ve helped us look for solutions to expand our digital system and clarify our vision.”
Over the summer, Schodack CSD teachers as well as Questar III Model Schools Coordinator Carolyn Strauch provided training to teachers so that on day one of school students were ready to receive their devices and teachers knew how to incorporate them into their lessons. Questar III will continue to provide training and support throughout the program as needed.
A digital tool with benefits
Students use the tablets in a multitude of ways. They use apps like Notability to take notes and Google Drive to submit assignments to their teacher, all without a single sheet of paper. Textbooks are never forgotten at home because everything is loaded onto the tablet, and with apps like Kindle, students can highlight text and look up words with ease.
In addition, the devices allow students and teachers to communicate in real time outside of regular school hours. They can email or use chat features, even utilize video conferencing. According to Questar III Criminal Justice teacher Amy Gillettt, this has been highly beneficial.
“My kids and I communicate regularly outside of class thanks to the iPad. If they have a quick question about their homework they can reach me and I can answer them within 10 seconds. There’s no more of this ‘well, I didn’t know what to do, so I just didn’t do it.’ Just the ability to do that has been huge,” said Gillett.
The iPad also allows Questar III students to organize their materials in a coherent fashion, eliminating lost assignments and materials due to bulky binders and backpacks.
At Sackett Educational Center, teachers are reporting increased organization and engagement. Erin Madigan said the iPads have made it easier to keep students on track and their work has been spot on.
“Kids aren’t scared to try new things on the iPad because they see it as cool and fun, which may psychologically relieve some of their anxiety,” said Madigan. “They’re having fun doing things like note annotation and they’re doing it naturally.”
Students who’ve avoided work in the past are now excited to do school work on their iPads.
“It is much easier to do work. I can keep track of things and I’m able to get all of my work done,” said student Dillon Lilley. “I like to come to school and use the iPad.”
Preparation for college and careers
The tablets are helping to prepare students for day-to-day tasks required of them in college and in careers. In the CTE classes, Questar III students are using applications specific to their field. All students get the advantage of knowing how to use the technology widely used in higher education and in the workplace.
Questar III Assistant Superintendent Andrew DeFeo knows first-hand how the devices can be used in aviation. As a licensed pilot, DeFeo uses an iPad regularly on flights, something that just two years ago was not permitted. The iPad allows pilots like him to access maps, approach charts, weather graphics, document organization, file flight plans and more. It has replaced paper charts and even portable GPSs for many pilots. Students in the Aviation program have access to flight simulator apps which help them to practice on the ground as well.
“The tablet opens up a whole new area of learning opportunities including apps and tools used by professionals and communications tools such as email and video conferencing,” said DeFeo. “They have a real tool that professionals in the field use and that gives the students a competitive advantage.”
Through the iPad, students in the Criminal Justice program have access to subscriptions such as Evidence Magazine and the latest version of New York State Criminal and Procedural Law. Gillettt said the iPad will enhance the ability to work in teams during mock trials.
These students will have an advantage when it comes to jobs in the field. Police officers use laptops in their vehicles and many correctional facilities are moving away from lock and key and toward digital security.
All students, no matter the program or the district, are learning transferrable skills useful for college and careers. If they haven’t worked with a specific application or software, they’ll have the basic knowledge from their experience with the tablet to be able to determine how to use it.
In addition, students are learning how to be responsible. Students understand they are privileged to have the opportunity to use the devices and the expectations set for them.
“Students have really taken in to heart and they have a sense of pride in being part of something special,” said Gillett. “They understand there are high exceptions and they are taking it very seriously.”
This pilot program has allowed Questar III, OpenRoom and participating districts to work collaboratively to digitize the classroom, they’ve been able to share ideas and work through challenges.
According to Horan, the long-term plan for Schodack CSD is to have all students, K-12, using a device. The next step is to replace teachers’ desktops with tablets. Once teachers are comfortable, they will implement them in other grades.
At Coxsackie-Athens CSD, the long-term plan is to provide a device to every student in grades 7 – 12 that they can take home, and to have enough devices on hand in all classrooms and grade levels.
In addition to expanding the use of tablets to other Questar III programs, leaders at Questar hope to expand support to other districts interested in creating their own programs.
“We’ve been very appreciative for the opportunity to learn from Schodack as we too share the opportunity to provide a richer learning environment,” said DeFeo. “How we go forward is based on the outcome and feedback from students, staff and administrators.”
“Although we are still just sampling, the goal of this pilot is to expand over time,” said Questar III Chief Operating Officer Gladys Cruz. “I believe the one-to-one technology in schools is the wave of the future. Students must learn to use the technology that they’ll be expected to use in college, careers and as citizens of their community.”