Mobile Computing | Feature

Elementary iPads

A Kentucky elementary school is starting its students on iPads at the tender age of seven.

As the number of high schools and middle schools that are making iPads accessible to students is growing, some elementary institutions are also jumping into the fray. One school in Kentucky is getting its second and third graders up to speed on the devices in hopes of preparing the youngest generation for the 21st century academic and work world.

Bill Gatliff, principal at Stonewall Elementary in Lexington, KY, said the initiative came about after the institution tapped into some of Fayette County School District's available grant money. Two years ago the school's fifth graders received laptops, and the fourth grade students followed in their footsteps the following year. For this school year, Gatliff set his sights on funding the purchase of 70 iPads for use in several second and third grade classrooms.

Teacher-Driven Program
Gatliff said teachers in those classrooms wanted to go beyond laptops and test out the tablet computers instead.

"They were pushing for the iPads," recalled Gatliff, who requested that all interested second- and third-grade teachers submit a proposal explaining how the devices would be used in their classrooms. "We went through the proposals, scored them all, and selected four teachers--two second grade and two third grade--to receive the iPads."

Not all teachers were interested in the lottery-style doling out of the devices, which was just fine with Gatliff. "I didn't want to get them for anyone who wasn't going to use them anyway," he said, "so it worked out just fine."

Today, Stonewall Elementary's teachers use the devices across all subjects and for a wide variety of exercises and lessons. There are 17 iPads that remain in each classroom and are not removed by students. "It's not exactly 1:1, but it's pretty close," said Gatliff.

iPads in the Hands of Children
When teaching math, instructors integrate the devices by having students study and draw geometric shapes on them using their fingers. Students also use the iPads to research and write reports and books. They also use them for reading and spelling lessons, and to play educational games.

One would assume that 7-year-olds would require extra supervision when entrusted with technological devices that retail for $600 or more, but Gatliff said damage and loss haven't been an issue.

"The students treat the iPads like they are their babies," he said, "and they know that if they [break] one, then they won't have it anymore."

Teacher Professional Development
The initiative does require extra time on the part of the elementary teachers, each of whom allocates some energy to finding both free and paid applications for their young students to use in class.

"That takes a little time, but based on the level of engagement that teachers have seen from students since rolling the devices out," said Gatliff, "the extra effort is well worth it."

To acclimate to a teaching environment that's at least partially based on the use of tablet computers, Stonewall Elementary's staff formed its own informal professional learning community. Through the group, teachers can share ideas regarding what works and what doesn't, exchange apps and brainstorm new ideas.

"There's clearly been a learning curve for the teachers, but they've risen to the occasion," said Gatliff. And even though the devices are relegated to four classrooms, other teachers are invited to use them, share information about the iPads, and test them out. "It's not like 'these are mine and you can't use them,'" Gatliff said.

Gatliff said several other Fayette County School District elementary schools are using iPads in the classroom, and that more than 500 of the devices are in use across the district. He'd like to add more at his own 740-student school, if the budget for the 2011-2012 school year were to allow for this expenditure.

"The district has been very generous every year about putting out the RFPs, and I'm hoping it will offer some more grants for the coming year," said Gatliff. "We're so sold on the devices, however, that even if that doesn't happen we may try to get some of them on our own."

Editor's note: This article has been modified since its original publication. In one part of the article we inadvertently stated that Stonewall Elementary was located in North Carolina. It is in Kentucky. [Last updated May 4, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.] --David Nagel

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].