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February 22nd, 2012
At Las Vegas charter school, iPads power project-based learning
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.