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At Las Vegas charter school, iPads power project-based learning

Explore Knowledge Academy’s use of iPads drives a project-based curriculum.

A dozen Las Vegas second-graders were given a common English assignment one recent morning: Write a story using new vocabulary words. But instead of picking up a pencil and paper, these students launched the Pages word processing application on their iPads and started tapping.

One precocious youngster in the back of the room raised his hand.

“Mrs. Gilbert, can we go on Keynote to do this?” the second-grader asked. (Keynote is Apple’s version of Microsoft PowerPoint.)

Katie Gilbert smiled and said, “Sure.”

For all the talk about ways to bring technology into education, consider a public charter school in Clark County, Nev., that provides an iPad for each of its 720 students and 54 staff members.

Inside three nondescript former office buildings in the eastern Las Vegas Valley lies Explore Knowledge Academy, Nevada’s first “iSchool,” where students as young as kindergartners use novel technology to learn traditional subjects.

As a charter school, EKA operates under a contract — the charter — granted by the Clark County School District that gives the school greater freedom in setting its curriculum and budget in exchange for more accountability. (Like traditional public schools, EKA is tuition-free and open to all Clark County students, and it must also meet state education standards.)

Since its founding in 2002, EKA has used its academic flexibility to institute a project-based learning method, where students create projects — presentations, plays, dances, and dioramas — to demonstrate their knowledge. Last school year, EKA began a pilot program with 25 iPads to help students research and craft more interactive projects, such as digital slideshows, movies, and songs.

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Comments:

  1. jcbjr

    February 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    One major question is related to the inability of students to take the iPads home. I can think of a number of reasons for this related to the security and condition of them. But I also would think the homework and project work, etc. would be hampered by this decision. Are there computer-stored materials (including student work in progress files) that are available to them remotely from home?

  2. rlburtner

    February 22, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    My school, which is a private one, began a 1:1 iPad2 program last fall in grades 3-8. Students are expected to take their iPads home at night and on weekends. They probably will not be able to keep them over summer vacation. Homework is submitted via e-mail using Google Docs. Students in the upper grades love the fact that they can be in their individual homes and still collaborate on homework projects using Facetime. Each student has a unique e-mail account. Unlike previous years most homework is submitted on time. No excuse for not doing so. Students are required to come to school with a fully charged iPad. Because iPads are not charged at the school, one sync cart suffices for all of the grades. The iPads are also used to interact with our whiteboards and HD, ultra-short-throw, 16:10 ratio, video projectors using Doceri software and AppleTVs, a much less expensive technology than some of the smart interactive whiteboards.

    More recently we gave teachers in our preschool and grades K-2 iPads with which to experiment. They have begun to find creative uses for them and the many apps that are age appropriate. Although not used on a 1:1 basis, iPads are being shared for small group activities and to record video of the students that can be sent home to the parents. Because each student in these grades does not have an iPad, we have installed eBeam interactive whiteboard technology which still requires that a student or teacher interact with the board from the front of the classroom. However, it will also be possible to interact with the whiteboards from the shared iPads.

    Our biggest problem has been the thinness of the glass screens on the iPad2s. We have had several screens crack for which the parents had to pay the $100 deductible on our insurance policy that covers accidents, theft, vandalism, etc. anywhere in the world. All but one of the screens were cracked off campus and mainly by the 3rd and 4th graders. Although we have yet to install filtering software, the software that we are considering will permit us to control Internet usage off campus. Also students are not permitted to install apps that are not approved by the teachers. Students do not have the password for downloading the apps from iTunes.

    We opted to use Apple’s lease purchase plan so that the school retains ownership and control and can replace the iPads at the end of two years. Thus far we are very pleased with how our program operates.

  3. rsevilla

    March 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Great read…. we too are exploring 1:1 iPad classrooms in 10 classrooms. The teachers volunteered to be included in this pilot. We have 2 at elementary, 2 at middle school and 6 at high school. Teachers chose whether they wanted kids to have student access be 24 x 7 in a true 1:1 deployment or as a cart in the classroom… elementary chose 1:1 and a few secondary.. but many secondary are choosing to first try them as resource in the classroom and let kids sign them out nights and weekends… It has been a challenge establishing workflows when the device is shared. Obviously it is much better as a personal device, but we are still moving ahead! We use WebDav and Dropbox mostly for storage. We have quite a few IWBs in our schools and I too see much, but definitely not all, capabilities from iPad to projector through AppleTV/AirPlay and software like Doceri or Splashtop fitting the needs of many teachers. It is not an apples to apples comparison by any stretch, but an IWB with the pricetag attached really takes the commitment of the teachers to use it in ways that provides real return on investment. We are exploring the HMH Fuse Algebra text and students are using the iPads as content creation tools using Pages, Keynote, Evernote, and many others. One of the issues we are trying to solve now is how to take student produced media and publish it to a blog or wiki so others can view and comment on the work – give the work “wings” and use the web as the new “refrigerator” to post to. Because the iPad seems to lack a browseable file structure, many tools like Wikispaces and blogs can’t seem to “attach” rich media to a post. They have been great tools to extend the walls of the classroom and allow kids to communicate and collaborate with others. Teachers report higher levels of engagement and willingness to write, revise, rewrite and share their work. Does anyone have a specific HDMI ultrashort throw, wall-mounted projector and sound solution you can recommend? –Roger Ithaca, NY