A look around Mandy Blackburn’s classroom at West View School in Limestone reveals all the normal supplies and instruments fifth- and sixth-graders would need throughout the day.
There are books, computers, pencils, pens and iPads.
Blackburn’s language arts class at West View is part of a pilot program in Washington County schools in which students are learning English and reading through the popular Apple tablet.
What do her students think about it?
Well, it’s cool, of course.
“It’s exciting cause every time we get a new app, we always want to try to get on it and learn more about it,” sixth-grader Garrett Thompson said.
In using the iPad, Thompson and his fellow students have been able to learn through a variety of apps ranging from ones that focus on reading and writing to game apps aimed at problem-solving.
“(With) the dictionary, you can do where it speaks to you and you can understand the words and it gives you new books and you can read them online,” Thompson said.
Fifth-grader John David Lewis never realized just how excited he could get over reading before using the iPad.
“There are lots of books that are fun and you can play games on them,” he said.
Both students never imagined they would walk into class and learn their lessons using iPads.
And Blackburn never imagined she would one day be recording lessons that students could pull into different apps to learn about story structure and the weekly vocabulary list.
“It’s really changed how I teach and it’s changed how I personally think about technology and how I think about it for the future of my students,” she said.
Within the last year, Blackburn has gotten 10 iPads she uses daily her classes, funded through Title I funds. After researching about the educational benefits of iPads in the classroom, she approached school administration to see if it could be a reality at West View.
“More than anything for the students, it motivates them. They’re excited about coming into class. They’re excited about reading more books, because it’s not just a print book — they’re interactive,” she said.
Since the beginning of the program, Blackburn has tried to incorporate as many apps as she could in order to get the students used to using the device and become more knowledgeable about the technology itself.
“I think that the students of today really need to be on the cutting edge of technology. It’s a high-poverty school ... so a lot of them don’t have personal computers at home or Internet access at home, so I think for them to be able to come to school and get this new cutting-edge piece of technology is something they can really benefit from,” she said.
Plus, any way to get a student excited about writing or cracking open a book is a good thing.
Blackburn has fully integrated the world of apps into her teaching. Students can write assignments on the iPad and take online tests on the device.
As a result of the excitement and thirst for learning in her students, Blackburn has even seen an increase in performance and test scores.
“My students’ scores from the beginning of the year to their mid-year benchmark test, all of them bumped up several points in their score. Some of them bumped up one or two proficiency levels and some of them are already at their end of the year goal,” she said.