After solving word problems on a worksheet, Prickett’s students took mobile devices – iPhones and iPads, a Kindle Fire, and other tablet computers – to areas around the classroom, scanned numbered codes corresponding to the problems they’d solved, and found out if they got the right answers.
“What are you going to tell your parents you learned today?” Prickett asked her class.
“Technology is awesome!” one student yelled back.
Prickett’s Alexandria Elementary School class today completed its first exercise in the Bring Your Own Device program – a technology initiative in Calhoun County Schools asking students to bring tablets, cell phones and laptops into the classroom to use as learning and teaching tools. This week, teachers at Alexandria, Wellborn and Pleasant Valley elementary schools began training and learning ways to incorporate the technology into their teaching.
The initiative is different from technology programs in other school systems such Oxford and Piedmont, where students are issued devices by the school for classroom use. The county’s program began last year as a cost-saving measure. Calhoun County Schools Superintendent Joe Dyar said a survey showed administrators that almost 70 percent of students in Calhoun County Schools had some type of mobile device that could be used in the classroom.
“We can’t afford a one-on-one initiative,” Dyar said, using a term by which educators refer to school-issue technology programs. “This makes use of the resources students already have.”
With so many different kinds of devices, the challenge for teachers is keeping up with all the technology. Prickett, an avid iPad user, said part of her training this week was learning how to download applications onto different tablet devices.
But in many cases, students are already masters of the technology, said Jeannae Graves, an assistant with i21Zone, the group training teachers how to implement the devices in the classroom.
“This morning we were trying to figure out how to turn the volume down, and one of the students said you can’t do that on that device,” Graves said. “We just need to listen to them, because they know how these devices work.”
In Prickett’s classroom today, about half the students had devices they brought from home, and half used iPads provided by the school’s library. Dyar said there are 5,000 school system-owned mobile devices across the 17 county schools.
Dyar said so far the program has been a success, but not without some bumps along the way. An overload of devices accessing the school’s wireless networks has caused crashes, and the school system has had to increase bandwidth three times this year.
And with technology improvements also comes new challenges for teachers, making sure students are using their devices for learning, and not for cheating.
“The important thing we want people to know is this isn’t replacing teachers,” Dyar said. “These devices are just another tool, and the teachers need to monitor students and keep them engaged.”
Dyar said last year the school system’s technology department received six notifications of students attempting to reach blocked material through their devices. The students were spoken to, and Dyar said students who use the devices improperly will be prevented from taking them to class.
Rebecca Grogan, assistant principal at Alexandria Elementary School, said that students are typically too involved in the classroom activities for which they’re using the devices to become distracted. She said this morning the school’s tablets were used in a lesson plan for students with behavioral problems, and the class didn’t have any disciplinary issues.
“They’re spending time learning and not in the office,” Grogan said. “That’s really what this is all about.”
Prickett said her exercise today with scanning codes is a way for students and teachers to get comfortable with the devices. But Dyar said the devices can be limitless as educational tools.
“If they’re dissecting a certain animal, they can see on their devices the different parts and learn about them even if the animal isn’t right in front of them,” Dyar said. “It’s combining hands-on learning with the technology that really makes it fast-paced.”
Dyar said all 17 Calhoun County schools will receive training for the program before the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.