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Middle-schoolers, iPads a happy mix

Neil Armstrong principal, teacher tout success of pilot program


by: COURTESY PHOTO: ART HEERWAGEN - Neil Armstrong Middle School Principal Brandon Hundley and Hillsboro School Board member Glenn Miller observe students working with their iPads.Tanner Mannen likes it a lot. “It’s easier for me to do homework,” the eighth-grader says. “I get better grades.”

For Zalma Aguilar, the leased iPad III she takes back and forth from her classroom at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove to her home allows her to better communicate with her instructors.

“I can message teachers if I have any questions about an assignment,” said Aguilar, who’s also in eighth-grade.

On April 16, about 20 parents and community members attended a series of presentations and tours at Neil Armstrong. Titled “From Chalkboards to Tablets,” the hour-long sessions were designed to sum up the success of the iPad pilot program’s initial year.

Principal Brandon Hundley said the venture has transformed learning and instruction for the school’s 850 students.

“I’m not ready to say this year’s improvements are all about the iPads, but his year something different has happened,” said Hundley.

Last year the Forest Grove School Board approved a $300,000 expenditure for the program, in which they use iPads — which are password-protected and have filters to limit access to the Internet — to do research, take notes in class, complete homework and download and upload completed assignments.

At last Wednesday’s event, Hundley told attendees the iPads have extended the school day, giving students more opportunities for learning because they can interact with their teachers at night. He said there is also a much higher level of engagement in the classroom.

“When I walk into a classroom, what I see is numbers of kids, most of the kids all the time, engaged in the content their teacher is providing,” he said.

He drew attention to the declining number of students requiring discipline since the program launched last fall. “The year before I came, kids were sent from the classroom more than 3,000 times. For a building with less than 900 students, that represented a lot of lost instructional time.”

This year, Hundley said, there have been fewer than 350 “minor” infractions — in which a student is sent from the classroom for 15 to 45 minutes — and that “majors,” which can result in expulsion, won’t even hit 300. Along with discipline, the school has also been tracking attendance, which is now at 95 percent.

The iPads help, but the school’s improving numbers are also due to a team approach, a strong advisory program and a “phenomenal staff,” noted Hundley. “Instruction hasn’t changed, the outcome hasn’t changed — just the medium that the kids are doing it on.”

Language arts teacher Nicole Carter said that in her “flex-model classroom,” instead of listening to lectures and taking notes, pupils are “interactively involved on their devices with lessons and videos” she creates herself.

“These are tailor made for my students and what there’re learning, [and] that becomes their homework,” Carter said.

Hillsboro School Board member Glenn Miller, who said he attended the presentation because of his district’s interest in the iPad program, asked about the level of student motivation to complete work at home.

“It’s good,” said Carter. “With the iPad, I can teach both honors and regular students. Before iPads, I’d give them a video to take home and take notes from, along with a question sheet. That didn’t always work for regular students, but now I can download a video with imbedded questions they have to answer before the video will start again.”

Miller wanted to know whether kids without wi-fi at home were out of luck with the program, but Hundley said that wasn’t much of a barrier.

“Only 20 percent of our students are without Internet now,” he said. “But they can download what they need at school and open it at home. Now that the weather’s getting better, you’ll see kids staying after school sitting out front on the lawn using the school’s wi-fi to do their homework.”

Hundley said the district will now be faced with tech-savvy eighth-graders moving on to the high school and back to a mostly paper-and-pencil environment. “There is a discussion going on now on how to address [that] problem,” he said.



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