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Districts 101, 303 incorporate iPads

Alice Gustafson Elementary School fifth-graders Logan Radoy (foreground) and Thomas Kessler use their iPads on Wednesday for a project.
Alice Gustafson Elementary School fifth-graders Logan Radoy (foreground) and Thomas Kessler use their iPads on Wednesday for a project.

BATAVIA – Alice Gustafson Elementary School fifth-grader Tony Avila wanted facts to back up his argument that he and his fellow students should have a longer recess during the school day.

With an iPad in hand, Tony searched the Internet and found studies showing that kids don’t get enough exercise, facts he planned to use in his classroom assignment. That’s just one example of how the elementary school’s students use iPads in their classrooms.

Batavia School District 101 launched an iPad pilot program in the fall at the elementary school. At the beginning of the year, each fifth-grader received a third-generation iPad to use during the school day.

The Batavia school board in April approved the $54,055 expense for the program. The district is among more than 2,300 K-12 school districts in the United States running iPad programs for students or faculty.

Angie Sutherland, the district’s instructional technologist, said the pilot program is going better than she imagined.

“The kids are probably a little farther along than I thought they would be,” Sutherland said.

“They embraced it more than I even hoped from the beginning.”

Fifth-grader Rachel Sailer of Batavia said using the iPad has helped her with math assignments. And teachers are embracing the iPads, as well.

“It gives the students a sense of ownership of the lessons,” fifth-grade teacher Larke Curnock said. “Every day they are learning something new and teaching me something new. I almost never see them getting bored anymore.”

The school has enacted rules regarding the use of the iPads to prevent unsafe or inappropriate Web surfing. For example, the iPads can’t leave the school and all Internet access on the school network is filtered and monitored to protect students.

In addition, students can’t use Facebook at school. Students who violate the rules face the possibility of having iPads taken away from them temporarily. But officials say the school has not seen many offenses.

“They’ve surprised us with their level of engagement and responsibility with the iPads,” fifth-grade teacher Kristy VanderLoon said.

IPads also are used by students and teachers at the other schools in the district, although not on an individual basis. The district has 439 tablets in use, said Tony Inglese, the district’s chief information officer who heads the district’s tech team.

For the 2011-12 school year, Batavia High School started using iPads as part of changes to its freshman intervention program for math. Other significant changes included creating a professional learning community for the teachers of the course and changing grading and teaching strategies.

“This was a course that typically had a 75 percent pass rate for the first half and a 60 percent pass rate for the second half,” Inglese said. “Students are selected for this intervention when we predict that they are not on track to be college ready in math by their junior year.”

After the students started using iPads and other changes were implemented, the program started seeing “astounding” results, he said.

“The first half had a 92 percent pass rate, with no failures, and 64.4 percent of the students moved back onto track to be college ready in math,” Inglese said.

Inglese sees the use of iPads and other technology as the wave of the future for teachers.

“The classic mode of teaching is having one teacher to 30 students,” he said. “But not everybody learns in the same way.”

Some are not sold on iPads as a teaching tool, such as St. Charles School District 303 board candidate Ed McNally.

“I lot of these kids rely on technology to do the thinking for them,” McNally said.

McNally teaches biology at Proviso West High School in Hillside, and he has been in the education field for 25 years. He said no amount of technology can replace a good teacher.

“What you need in a classroom is a competent teacher and engaged students,” McNally said.

Michelle Fitzgerald, curriculum director for District 303, said iPads are engaging students.

“They allow kids to be engaged, and then teachers can give additional help,” Fitzgerald said. “We see students are excited with the iPads, and can’t imagine what life would be like without iPads.”

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