by Mitchell Kirk
Four months after students and faculty received iPads at Caston Junior-Senior High School, Band teacher James Byrn doesn’t think the new device has necessarily changed his teaching, but rather provides another instrument at his disposal.
“I think a good teacher with or without technology is still a good teacher,” he said, “just as a bad teacher with or without technology is still a bad teacher. This is just another tool I can use to enhance my students’ learning.”
Specifically for Byrn’s classes, this means being able to send his students sheet music, finger charts and warm-up exercises straight to their iPads. It means his students can send him things as well, like their playing tests by using the video camera in their iPads to record themselves performing their instruments.
Byrn said he felt this made his students more comfortable in doing their playing tests, a sentiment his student, sophomore Braden Moss shared.
“It makes it a lot easier,” said Moss, who plays the tuba. “Now I can do them whenever I have an extra minute and I can do them over if I have to.”
Bryn can then view and grade his students’ playing tests by filling out a rubric, all from his own iPad, before sending them back to the students.
Teachers agree that the devices have increased convenience. Before the iPads, copies of papers had to be made and handed out. Now they’re available for download at students’ fingertips.
“It makes things a lot more efficient in the classroom,” said Carl Davis, who teaches social studies classes like history and geography. He said his students use Google Earth on their iPads to zoom in and out of various areas of terrain and use programs to view the way places looked at different times in history. As he explained this, his students were at their desks, eyes glued to their iPads, embarking on a WebQuest through the Middle Ages in which they would complete a social diagram of the feudal system, observe the layout of a medieval watermill and answer various questions.
Byrn spoke to the conveniences the device created for his band classes as well. The time it takes to find a CD, remove it from its case, place it in a stereo and find a track has been eliminated by the immediacy of merely playing a song from his iTunes.
For field trips, students can even have their parents sign their permissions slips right on the screens of their iPads, before being sent back to their teachers.
“I could still hand out papers and do playing tests like before, that wasn’t a problem, but it’s helped communicating,” Byrn said. “It’s immediate.”
Davis also spoke favorably of the way the devices promote collaboration.
“It’s huge,” he said. “A lot of times with group work, someone will scoot off to the periphery. When they’re all working on the same document, it forces everyone to participate.”
Davis went on to recall an collaboration-inducing exercise in one of his history classes that required students to come together to write a script for an early 20th century dinner party.
Long gone are the days of transparent sheets atop overhead projectors, and now it would appear as if Caston Junior-Senior High School is saying goodbye to plugging laptops into digital projectors as well. In Byrn’s band room, he is able to display the contents of his iPad screen to the wall wirelessly via Apple TV. This way he can zoom in on certain parts of songs and aspects of exercises to provide students with a more focused understanding.
Principal Adam Strasser appeared pleased with how the initiative has been going so far.
“It’s been a good tool,” he said, adding that he and the staff knew from the beginning that there were going to be hurdles to overcome like teaching students and faculty members how to use them.
Sophomore Austin Melms appears to be getting the hang of his own, explaining that in his speech class he used the device to watch other speeches online, take notes on them, write his own and then insert visual aids into the presentation software when it came time to give his own speeches.
“I love it,” Melms said. Not only can you keep track of homework, email teachers with questions, but there’s an internet resource that’s always there.”
While Strasser said that there have been some instances of students abusing the devices and reports of physical damage, not one loss has occurred.
“We knew there would be challenges and we’ve been very pleased with how everyone’s met those challenges.”
As for the future of the initiative, Strasser seemed optimistic.
“At least once a week a teacher will show me a new app they can use in their class,” he said. “Everyone’s doing a great job.”
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.