The students in Todd Goff's Kinard Elementary fourth-grade class were fascinated by their unit on European explorers when the lesson was reinforced by a fun game on an iPad.
Erich Stepko, 10, used an iPad application to choose from a list of explorers who sailed from Europe to find new lands.
"They discovered America and Africa," Erich explained, using his finger to track the routes on the screen. "Then you have to return to England or France over here."
Kinard is one of three Clover elementary schools that have begun to use iPads as classroom instruction tools. The students have used games that practice multiplication tables and factors, studied weather maps, done research and created classroom presentations on the iPads.
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"Their level of engagement is very high, and they get very excited about using the iPads," Goff said of his students. "Often, they will ask me, 'Are we using the iPads today?'"
Goff said he saw the students' skills improve when they used the iPads to practice multiplication tables, an area where the group was weak. "This is how they learn," he said. "They've grown up in a digital age."
The three Clover schools - Larne, Kinard and Bethany elementaries - purchased sets of iPads for classrooms in upper grade levels to share. The tablet computers, which cost about $500 each, were purchased with federal Title 1 money, available to schools with large low-income populations.
Beth Goff, technology coordinator for the Clover school district, said the iPads provide a fun way for students to practice by the repetition of facts. "It provides a novel way to do that skill and drill," said Goff, the wife of Todd Goff. "They're getting practice and having fun doing it."
Another form of learning with the iPads is to research a topic and create a video or audio podcast, she said. "They can create media, which is a lot higher-level thinking than just sitting and listening."
Beth Goff said several other Clover schools are interested in iPads. She said Crowders Creek Elementary School has bought a dozen iPads, probably to be used by students in small groups.
Clover Superintendent Marc Sosne said the district had begun to explore the use of iPods in the classroom when the iPad came out. Sosne said Clover waited a while to see how other schools used them.
"I am observing a high level of excitement from the students," Sosne said. "I am also observing our teachers being very creative with them. I'm really hopeful we're going to see some positive results."
Todd Goff said he has spent time searching for and exploring some different applications for the iPads to go with his lessons. He said each application needs to be tested before the students use it.
Kinard Principal Kathryne Weathers said her students often report that their favorite part of the school day is using the iPads. "This will be the thing that brings a certain child to school," she said.
"We are about engagement, and that is engaging," Weathers said. "We are about individualizing, and that can be individualized. We are about meeting students' needs, and we can cater to a student's needs with that technology."
Kinard purchased 20 iPads for each grade level, from grades three to five - a total of 60 iPads. The iPads are stored on a cart and can be moved from one classroom to another.
Weathers is already thinking about expanding the technology. "What it's brought so far has been very exciting," she said. "We'd love to expand it into our media center, and also into our lower grades."
Sosne said he believes schools will be moving to a textbook-free type of instruction, with students using small portable computer devices such as the iPads to store text and other content.
"I do think the day is coming," he said. "I don't know if it's going to be two years from now or 10 years, but some time in the future, kids aren't going to be carrying textbooks home from school - they're going to be carrying their textbooks loaded into an iPad."