Wednesday, March 7, 2012

West Prairie ag classes learning with iPads

West Prairie High School student Jacqueline Heaton, a freshman, uses an iPad tablet computer during a recent lesson on the universal swine identification system in agriculture teacher Corinne Galvan’s Orientation to Agriculture class.

Sciota, Ill. —

In a move toward West Prairie School District’s plan to provide each student at the high school with their own digital device by as early as 2013, agriculture teacher Corinne Galvan’s students have been using iPad tablet computers since January. Three or four times per week, students use the iPads to enhance a classroom lesson, study for a quiz, or read a digital agriculture-related article for class.

As the experimental class of sorts for the district’s future technology plan, they’re also discovering, along with Galvan, what they find most and least beneficial about a digital elearning environment.

During one of her recent morning Orientation to Agriculture classes, Galvan conducted a lesson on the universal swine ear notching system using the iPads. Students used their finger to draw a pig ear on the iPad’s touch screen, then added numbered notch marks.

That’s one way the iPads are being incorporated into the class, but Galvan said the devices have been most beneficial in preparing students for quizzes. The use of digital flashcards, which include graphics and immediately let students know which answers are incorrect, has boosted quiz and test scores.

“They’ve gotten a lot better and we’re having some serious conversations about how is that going to change what we’re doing, how we’re studying.” Galvan said.

One student, freshman Jaqueline Heaton, said she likes using the iPads because all of her class materials are in one place-on the device.

“Everything is right there on the computer,” she said. “You don’t have to go search.”

Galvan is using a number of free apps with her agriculture classes, including Flipboard, which allows her to create an interactive, digital book of class materials for the iPads; MarketWatch, which lets her Agriculture Business students create and monitor their own mock stock portfolios; Educreations, an interactive whiteboard used for the lesson on the swine ear notching system, and others.

While she is pleased with the iPad experiment so for, Galvan acknowledges that using iPads a few times per week provides only a glimpse of what might happen when students someday arrive to class their own devices.

“It’s a little different than having nine iPads in your classroom,” she said. “That’s a little bit more manageable than having 25 children come into your classroom with their own laptops and you wonder how you’re going to do things with integrity.”

For Galvan, maintaining integrity in the classroom means recognizing that digital learning cannot replace the real experience gained hands-on learning, especially when it comes to the science aspect of her classes.

“It’s not like we do everything on the computer,” she said. “We still do activities in the greenhouse and cut stuff open because I think we need that.”

Galvan also recognizes that using a digital device doesn’t fit the learning style of all students and so she incorporates different activities, such as kinesthetic movement or group discussion, into a lesson using a digital device.

“The whole idea is we’re not just opening a Word document and typing all period,” she said. “Like today, the activity we’re going to do is going to require them to do partner work and get up and move.”

When it comes time for the school district to chose a device that will be given to each student, Galvan’s students already have a suggestion: laptop computers. Several students noted the full keyboards on laptops make the devices more useful for academic purposes than iPads, which have touch screens and lack keyboards.

Galvan said she is concerned about the potential cost of apps that would have to downloaded onto each device. All of the apps Galvan currently uses are free downloads.

“What if I spend $5 on it and don’t like it?” she asked. “Then I’ve kind of wasted $5. I wish there was something like ‘Try this free for 10 days.’ I wish that was there for the educator.”

While uncertain about the drawbacks of the iPad, Galvan is pleased with how the digital devices have enhanced her classroom and she been comparing this year’s test scores with those of last year’s students.

“Test scores are considerably better,” she commented. “Means on tests are way higher than they were a year ago. We will continue to reflect on how we’re using them and what works.”

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