Learning in the classroom: There's an app for that.
Over the past year, such apps, as well as their associated devices and uses, have been explored through a pilot program of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District with support of the Berkshire Hills Technology Fund.
"I think we're on the edge of a revolution for learning and this is a chance for us to get ready for that," said Superintendent Peter Dillon of the partnership initiative.
Muddy Brook Elementary, Monument Valley Middle, and Monument Mountain Regional High schools each had a team of teachers who devised and implemented curriculum, class activities and student projects through online environments. Each teacher
Teachers also were asked to work in learning communities operated through an online platform known as Moodle. It allows users to share information, resource materials and lessons in a safeguarded online network.
"When we started training for this project last summer, I was Apple-free," said Jessica Redman, a third-grade teacher for Muddy Brook who is now in her 10th year of instruction for the district.
But she learned how to use an iPad 2, and this spring, she allowed each of her students to use it for a day to make photos and do research for a classroom journal.
She said most of her students were familiar with people who had iPhones or iPod touch devices, but it was their first time, in her classroom, using an iPad.
"It was amazing though, to see their innate capability to get in and start exploring with it," she said.
She said the key to using the technology effectively was in only letting students use it for a specific assignment, not just for play.
At the elementary school level, a team of 10 teachers worked to develop curriculum materials in the district's Moodle and online Google apps environment. They had access to a mobile iPad 2 lab with 10 devices.
The middle school effort was focused on using Samsung Galaxy Android tablets in Monument Valley's fifth-grade classrooms. Teachers were able to access 20 tablets.
Debbie Ramsay collaborated with her son, Patrick Ramsay, who runs a fifth-grade classroom at the International School of Dakar in Senegal. They used Moodle, Google Docs and Skype to allow students to communicate with one another through videos and posts, in addition to writing traditional letters to each other.
"We found that students continued their conversations online from home," Debbie Ramsay said. And that brought up a conversation about how outside of school, students' online use was at the discretion of their parents.
At Monument Mountain Regional High School, teachers used iPad 2 technology for instruction, and a wireless network was established, which students could access from their own devices.
Technology instructor Tom Roy was able to simultaneously monitor his students' work and progress. Next year, he hopes to offer a class that explores designing apps.
Tara Birkett used Moodle and other platforms to share online resources and class materials for a myth, folklore and fantasy course offered to English honors students.
Both high school teachers said that with the ease of access comes the challenges of how students choose to use the technology.
"Technology and devices are an extension of us now. [Students] are always using it, but they self-monitor the use in class pretty well," said Birkett. But she noted that she still has to deal with students texting and using non-educational apps in class.
She was also quick to note that technology and online communities are not a panacea to education and student engagement. "It's still school work," she said.
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Tablet technology teams
Facilitators/professional development/support staff teams
Michael Mino, Jack Curletti, Ann Grochmal (elementary school); Mino, Matt Mervis, Loris Mullins and Debra Tesoniero (middle school); Mino and Kara Staunton-Shron (high school).
Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School
Ann Kinne (early kindergarten); Jack Curletti (kindergarten); Glenn Chamberlin and Patty Melville (Grade 1); Kristin Finnerty (Grade 2); Anne Flynn, Jessica Redman, Marty Rolf, Kaitlin Scarbro (Grade 3); Anne Grochmal (computer teacher).
Examples of uses: Literacy and reading apps, math apps, video technology for sharing lessons with parents, creating e-books, Moodle communities and sharing.
Monument Valley Regional Middle School
Grade 5 teachers Carole Aberdale, Diane Arnold, Kathleen Gillis, Kathryn Burdsall and Debbie Ramsay used apps to support math, science, poetry instruction and social studies.
Monument Mountain Regional High School
Tara Birkett (English honors class); Daniel Bouvier and Valerie Zantay (Spanish II classes); Edward Barrett (WISE Program, to bridge seniors from high school to college); Kathy Erickson and Steve Estelle (Algebra I, Statistics); Aaron Fisher (Physics); Meghan St. John (Grade 9 English); Kathy Roy (Early childhood education instruction class); Tom Roy (technology education); Kara Staunton-Shron (library media).
Berkshire Hills Technology Fund: www.bhtechfund.org
Berkshire Hills technology plan: www.edline.net/pages/bhrsd