iPad pilot project at Longfellow could guide Rochester schools to more technology use
Does the future of Rochester Public Schools lie in several classrooms at Longfellow Elementary School?
It's an answer that continues to develop. In April, every first- and second-grade student at the Rochester elementary school was handed an iPad, launching the district's first one-to-one pilot project.
The goal: To provide a niche within the district where a group of teachers could learn how to use the devices in the classroom. Another goal behind the pilot? To generate internal data that district officials might use, if the pilot proves successful, to justify a larger future investment.
Two months later, Rochester's iPad experiment is creating an incomplete but promising picture, one that district leaders say is "encouraging" as they continue to weigh one day expanding the initiative across the 16,000-student district.
Kris Davidson, Longfellow principal, recalls the day the devices we're first handed out to kids. The staff had been a "little nervous" about the transition and had spent a three-week break getting used to the iPads. But the kids took to the devices like they had been born with them.
"Within the first hour of the first day, they're flying," Davidson said. "We're digital immigrants, and they're like natives. They just take it and run."
Aiding in the classroom
Longfellow teachers say the iPad's ability to give kids instantaneous feedback on everything from spelling to math lessons means reteaching is faster and more efficient.
In reading, students can self-monitor their fluency. They can read a book on the iPad, record what they're reading and quickly hear where they are struggling. Davidson compares the capability to an athlete who critiques his performance by watching game film.
"I've seen an increase in their fluency skills, reading with expression, reading through the punctuation," said Beth Carey, a Longfellow second-grade teacher who says her classroom is now virtually paperless.
Carey said that when her students are done with a math problem, they move to "extra math" assignments or work on their iPads, instead of spending time scrabbling for a book or waiting for others.
"My transition times are immediate," Carey said.
And because of the storehouse of information and education apps at their fingertips, more "differentiated" learning can take place. That means students can work at their own pace.
"We are getting instructional time back," said Kristie Beck, a first-grade teacher, "because when they're done (with one assignment), they move on to something else."
Teachers say one of the biggest differences they see — one backed up by research — is that students are more engaged in their work. When a visitor recently showed up at one first-grade classroom, the students there barely look up from their iPads, focused as they are on taking a test and then using the devices to work on telling time. For a first-grade classroom, the silence is striking. Behavior problems have been cut down, teachers said.
"They've grown up with technology. We haven't. They are just ready to go with it," Beck said.
Parents also seem to like the direction Longfellow is going in. Of the 46 parents who responded to a survey about the iPad pilot, 43 said they approved of it, Davidson said
But will iPad-centered instruction lead to better test scores? Teachers say it's too early in the pilot to tell. But Carey expressed excitement at what a year's worth of iPad-assisted instruction might uncover next year.
"That's what we're excited about," Carey said. "We're passionate about what we're doing."
It would cost nearly $8 million to equip each of Rochester's 16,000 students with a $499 device.
Rochester School Board Member Gary Smith said he's been encouraged by what he's heard from Longfellow teachers about the project.
"It's obvious that kids are engaged with them and are achieving and moving faster through the curriculum, which is all good anecdotally," Smith said. "I just want to see the hard data on that. It's like I said, it's encouraging at this point."