“Wow,” the students shouted in unison, staring down at their screens. “It looks huge,” another student chimed in a second later. “Oh, try the salt.”
The instructor removed the magnifying device from one petri dish and placed it in another. All the students, looking at their iPads, waited anxiously to see the results. Under a magnification factor of 40, the salt crystals look like transparent cubes.
“It looks like ice,” one student exclaimed.
The students went on to examine the crystalline structure of several more materials, including Epsom salt and laundry detergent. The examinations were all made possible by the use of an electronic microscope and wirelessly linked iPads each student had.
On Thursday afternoon at Cosmopolis School, educators showcased the use of technology in their classrooms in an event called iTech Trek. The center feature of the program was to display their use of the iPad as an educational tool. Visitors got to see students using iPads as microscopes, musical instruments, the latest reading text, an interactive multimedia device to teach math and a device to give tests in all subjects. The purpose of the iPad program is to provide Cosmopolis students with state-of-the-art technology and to translate the excitement most all children have for technology into high standards of academic performance.
Fourth grade teacher Given Stocker said that since the iPads were introduced at the school, her kids have become much more excited about learning and doing classroom assignments.
“I think this really engages the students,” Stocker said. “Before, when you told them to get their work out, a lot of them would start moaning and groaning. But now you tell them and they’re on it.”
Every student at Cosmopolis School, grades second through sixth, has access to their own iPad while they are at school. The wireless-linked tablet devices are each packed with the latest educational software. Administrators said the iPod has been a crucial element in making students more engaged in the classroom, and will naturally lead to better academic performance. Younger students have access to the iPod Touch. Around 150 students attend the elementary school, the only school in the Cosmopolis School District.
The program was started this year with iPads purchased with grant money provided by the Grays Harbor Community Foundation and Cosmo Specialty Fibers, Inc. The leadership of Cosmo Specialty Fibers decided the company wanted to help the children of the community they are located in and approached the district to see about its educators’ “future plans for learning,” said Robert Buchan, vice president for government relations, marketing, communications at Cosmo. When the company was told about the school’s desire to incorporate more technology into the classroom, Cosmo responded with a challenge grant. The company pledged to match all donations up to $15,000. The Grays Harbor Community Foundation, which funds a variety of educational grants in the county, agreed to donate $40,000 to the technology push, far more than the challenge grant targeted.
Initially, the Foundation had some concern about funding a project that might amount to an educational fad, but the approach of educators in the district and their plans for tracking the educational process of each student convinced them to go ahead with the program, said Cassie Lentz, program officer at the foundation. The school uses tests given before the program to establish a base line that future academic performance can be measured against. Subject testing to make comparisons against that base line take place at regular intervals.
“We didn’t want our kids to be left behind,” Lentz said. “We were really impressed with their ideas on this project.”
The grant was part of a larger $130,000 technology endowment the foundation made to schools in the county.
Throughout the event teachers, school administrators, members of the foundation and representatives from Cosmo mentioned the phrase “level playing field” in regard to the program.
Educators wanted to make sure that each student at Cosmopolis had access to the same level of technology as other students. They also want to make sure that students in the school had access to the same kind of assets as schools in Seattle.
“The program takes away any barriers (to technology) the kids may have had,” said Cherie Patterson, Cosmopolis superintendent.
Teachers said the iPads give them much greater flexibility in how to approach each student. Students who are strong in a subject are allowed to progress faster on their own, while students who may be having trouble with a concept can use the iPad to go over that concept on their own, using multimedia lessons until they have mastery of an area of study.
All in all, the children at Cosmopolis seem entranced by the iPads. The students eagerly showed how the devices helped them to learn fractions, solve multiplication problems very rapidly and count money.
After showing a carrot she drew on her iPad for Art class, Grace Whitney, a student in Patricia Nelson’s third grade class was succinct about how the iPad has changed coming to school at Cosmopolis students.
“We like it better,” she said.