Tablets in the Classroom

By Lawrence Hardy

Nestled in the woods of Virginia, a state known for its veneration of the past, Jamestown Elementary School is named for the first permanent English settlement in America, the remnants of which lie some 150 miles to the south. Students are expected to know a lot about state and national history.

But when it comes to exactly how they acquire that knowledge, this Jamestown isn’t clinging to the past.

“The iPad came out in April 2010,” says Camilla Gagliolo, instructional technology coordinator for the 21,000-student Arlington Public Schools, located in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. “In May, we had our first pilot in place.”

What are Jamestown’s students doing with those devices? Studying their namesake, for one. One day in early December, fourth-graders in Bill Donovan’s social studies class were sprawled across the room, paired up at tables, on tables, and on the rug, all hunched over iPads. They were looking at more than 100 photos the class took during their visit to the settlement. After downloading them into their own online reports, they wrote captions about what they saw.

“We’re very big on students creating their own understanding,” Gagliolo says.

Or, as 9-year-old Bora Yavalar puts it: “We like the iPad. It’s a cool tool.”

Across the country, school districts are acquiring iPads and other tablets the way they first turned to laptops years ago. (Though, to be sure, laptops haven’t gone away.) Jamestown has a one-to-one iPad program in place for 250 of its 650 students, and is planning to expand it next year.

The popularity of tablets -- lightweight, easy to carry, fast to charge -- comes as no surprise to school technology advocates such as Ann Lee Flynn, director of education technology programs for NSBA. They’ve been predicting this for a long time.

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