Sauvie Island Academy students use iPads to learn, communicate and take state tests

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Students In Asa Gervich's thrid-grade class at Sauvie Island Academy use iPads, among other learning devices, during a lesson. Over the past two years, Sauvie Island Academy teachers employed the use of Apple iPads in the classroom for all grade levels.

Now, for the first time, students are using the tablets to take standardized Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS, tests. The teachers say the technology has enhanced the classroom experience.

Patty Endicott, math tutor at the charter school, said grades three through eight started using the tablets for OAKS testing this month and will continue through May.

“Every student who tests has their own assigned iPad that they use nearly every day, so they are very familiar with how to use it,” Endicott said. “When it’s time to test, they can test in the comfort of their own classroom and use technology that they have used many times.”

She added, “I believe that when students are comfortable, it can minimize stress during testing, which can affect their test scores.”

Darla Meeuwsen, Sauvie Island Academy’s executive director, said the school pulled from its federal implementation grant— a grant focused on getting the school established in its early years — to buy the tablets. SIA bought 120 of the devices, which run about $400 each, last year and bought another 80 this year. That works out to about $80,000 over two years for the devices.

Asa Gervich, a third-grade teacher at the school, said his students have benefitted from the iPad’s daily use in the classroom.

Gervich said the biggest takeaway from having the tablets has been in finding more ways to reach and hear from his students. He said students are also finding ways to communicate through the technology in an educational capacity.

“Kids are making their thinking visible to each other and having great conversations — picking up new strategies as they learn from each other,” Gervich said. “That skill of articulating and defending one’s reasoning is huge.”

Gervich said he focuses students’ tablet use on student-creation applications rather than those focused on serving as animated flash-cards or other drilling skills. He said the student-creation applications allow students to make their own math videos, compose blogs and conduct various learning projects.

“The app, ‘Educreations,’ allows students to record notations on a virtual whiteboard along with their narration, generating a multimedia lesson or problem explanation,” Gervich said.

Asked whether the tablets have been a distraction for students, Gervich said the technology has actually had the opposite effect, noting the devices increase student focus and enthusiasm for learning.

“A tablet set up and implemented in a classroom probably looks very different compared to how you may see it used in a home setting,” he said. “At home, most of us use iPads to consume content — reading, watching, listening to things. In our classrooms, iPads are not entertainment devices. The kids aren’t so much consuming content, but rather, they’re creating it.”

Gervich said the iPads are “loaded up” with educational applications and students are taught to think of them as learning tools rather than entertainment platforms.

Students at Sauvie Island Academy use their tablets to read at times, Gervich said, but the school is far from substituting the devices for books.

“We’re definitely not glued to these screens all day,” Gervich said. “The iPads are stacked right there on the table, alongside the dictionaries and composition notebooks. We just grab them when we need them.”

Gervich said tablet use is a growing trend in schools, a movement he supports. He said the adoption of tablets in public schools is largely driven by the students’ needs, not the technology industry’s needs. He added teachers have access to education, training and professional development material so they can help students use the devices to their full potential.

Gervich said students have been able to access more information in the classroom through the tablets’ safe search engines. Students with a particular interest in certain subjects can be seen using the tablets to take their learning further, he said.

“We are studying geology right now and I had a kid researching Chinese lapidary arts on her own the other day after the science lesson,” Gervich said. “I have another student who was an extremely reluctant writer. He was so flummoxed by spelling and grammar that he was just too anxious about putting words down on paper. Now, he’s using a dictation app to get those thoughts out, which he can then copy over to notebook paper in his handwriting.”

Gervich said the school’s library is also using a social media-style application wherein students can review and recommend books to each other.

Gervich said he felt schools should be compelled to get technology into the hands of all students, noting current and future job markets demands skills and experience with such tools.

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