BELDING — For incoming Belding High School freshman Kyle Mansfield, his experience in high school will be like nothing any student before him has had the chance to experience.
The 13-year-old, an avid user of technology devices such as iPods, computers and, of course, the Internet, will enter an era of education in Belding geared toward placing the capabilities that technology offers directly into his hands in a classroom setting.
Come autumn, Belding Area Schools will provide iPad devices for every student in grades 6-12 for the entirety of the school year to use in the classrooms and at home.
This practice is no longer unique to the area, as school districts such as Central Montcalm, Greenville and Vestaburg have already taken the leap and placed electronic devices into their students’ hands.
As Mansfield said after listening to school administrators explain the program in detail during an informational parent meeting in Belding on Wednesday night, “I think it will provide a better opportunity to learn.”
Another tool for learning
Belding Middle School Principal Joel Olson said the devices, though foreign to many parents and faculty, are a part of students’ lives and must be used as a learning tool in the classroom setting.
“Are they going to replace textbooks? No — these are just another learning tool,” he said. “However, the hope is that one day students can download their textbooks to these devices.”
Olson said the idea behind introducing these devices is to provide a more engaging atmosphere for students.
“The idea is to create lessons that implement iPads and use them to engage students in the classroom, which is the most important thing, making sure they are involved in a rigorous curriculum,” he said.
Belding Superintendent Leslie Mount echoed Olson’s comments, but specifically pointed out that one way or another, students will interact with these devices, whether they are in school or not.
“These are all things that are out there that they are going to be exposed to and we want them to learn how to use them responsibly,” she said. “When students are here at school, their devices are filtered by our firewall, but at home, that responsibility will be on the parents.”
That responsibility is something Mount said needs to be taken seriously, stating that the parents’ role in the iPad program is just as important as the teachers’.
“We need (parents) to be our partners,” she said. “Just like with anything else at home, parents are in control. If they don’t want them using at home, or visiting certain websites, it’s all up to them. We’re hoping that they will help us teach them how to use them responsibly.”
Sitting in attendance at the informational meeting, parent Shannon Dewey of Belding said she is excited to see the school district taking a “leap forward” with technology in the classroom.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” she said. “My kids both have iPods and they use them all the time. I think it’s going to be a great tool to use, I just hope we as parents know enough about how to use it so we can monitor their use.”
A distraction in class?
With two children in high school, Dewey said she can easily see her son, who is a sophomore at Belding High School, taking advantage of his iPad and playing games with it, but is not discouraged by that factor.
“I know that it will be a big distraction for my son, not so much my daughter,” she said. “It would be our responsibility as parents to monitor that if they were on our home computer, so this is no different. But I’m glad the school is doing as much monitoring and filtering as they are, that makes it easier on us.”
Dewey said she is most relieved by the fact that she can check her student’s activity in school with the iPads, so if her kids are not using them properly, she will be well aware.
“When my kids come and I ask ‘Do you have homework?’ I can check their iPad and look at what their teacher has assigned them,” she said. “If it were written on a piece of paper, that could easily be left in a locker or placed in the trash where as this iPad will be coming home with them every night.”
In dealing with distractions, Greenville Public Schools Director of Technology Leeanne Eyer said that technology devices are hardly different from traditional items that have distracted students in the past.
“Yes, distractions are out there, these devices are toys, but they are also a tool, just like a pencil,” she said. “You can use a pencil to solve math problems or you can use it to draw doodles. The days of ‘bring your colored pencils to class’ are now becoming “bring your electronic device to class.”
According to Greenville Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Diane Brissette, using the devices in the classroom is the best way to keep students from using them as distracting toys.
“What we are really hoping for and expecting is that using this technology will increase on-task behavior,” she said. “If our students learn how to properly use these devices and are taught about them as educational tools, they will be less tempted to use them for other things. We believe this is going to help engage our learners.”
At Central Montcalm High School, which first implemented a pilot laptop program in 2010, this past fall offered a milestone in overcoming adversity with the program as a student was able to breach security.
“We had a student physically take the machine apart to give himself administrator rights,” said Central Montcalm Director of Technology Harvey Shick. “But as is with technology, Apple has already changed that with brand new models coming out. They have addressed the problem and it will be very difficult for a student to do it again.”
Though every laptop was collected by the school over Christmas break and about 25 laptops were tampered with, Central Montcalm Technology Curriculum Coordinator Amy Meinherdt said those laptops were quickly restored by a certified apple employee and the entire incident was comparable to a “bump in the road.”
“We had all of the laptops back in the students hands by Christmas,” she said. “It was handled much like you’d see this type of issue handled in a traditional sense. If students were to vandalize a particular book, we would pull all copies of that book to see how many were vandalized.”
Incoming Central Montcalm Superintendent Kristi Teall said incidents such as that, though unfortunate, are to be expected and it is the district’s responsibility to get through it and move on.
“It’s OK to have bumps in the road,” she said. “Kids will make mistakes and issues will happen, but if you just keep open that line of communication, you work though it and learn through them.”
Technology is who they are
Teall said there is no turning back from these programs now, as these devices are becoming more and more a part of children’s lives at younger and younger ages.
“Technology is who these kids are and we need to embrace that,” she said. “We need to push them and allow them to be who they are.”
According to Teall, times need to change and the introduction of technology in the classroom is the perfect answer for a shake up to keep education interesting for students.
“There is a stigma that kids power down when they come to school,” she said. “Knowing that they are going to be here for eight hours, students haven’t been as enthused as they should be to go to school. We have to put that excitement back into education and into the classroom.”
Those sentiments have been shared across the area, as Brissett said traditional ways of teaching are slowly fading away.
“Kids are becoming teachers,” she said. “They are teaching each other and investing in their own learning. We have kids reaching out and finding applications on their own time to use in the classroom, and they share those discoveries with other students and teachers.”
On certain skills such as writing in cursive, which is no longer taught throughout the district, Brissett said skills such as that will have to be taught at home.
“In the past, skills such as cursive were crucial to learn,” she said. “In a time when there were no printing presses, that was the major way of communicating. But today, that skill isn’t valued like it once was. There is no state standardized test for writing in cursive. Certain forms of education become obsolete as new methods of communication and learning are developed.”
As Belding looks to take it’s first step into their iPad program, Greenville and Central Montcalm plan to continue to move forward and expand on their current programs.
As for Mansfield, he only hopes he can get through the first year with his new device without any major problems.
“I think it’s a pretty good opportunity because it will be much easier to keep track of assignments,” he said. “I’m excited but kind of nervous too. I don’t always learn things right off the bat and it provides an opportunity to learn by repetition.”