BELDING — Every year, Belding High School teacher Michael Ostrander buys 300 pencils and places them on his desk in the event that a student happens to be without a writing utensil for that class period.
He doesn’t charge his students, he doesn’t ask for the pencils back, he simply wants his students to be prepared for his literature classes.
Three months into the school year, and for the first time in his teaching career, all 300 pencils continue to sit, unused, on Ostrander’s desk.
The answer to why no student has needed a pencil sits squarely in every students’ hands as they perform their classwork with an Apple iPad.
Note-taking, quizzes, tests, essays, reading, you name it — nearly every aspect of a student’s workload for a class can now be performed on a 9.5-inch by 7.3-inch electronic device that every student in the sixth through 12th grade now carries with them.
The $775,905.19 bond purchase supplied 1,300 iPads and cases to students and teachers throughout the school district.
Students and teachers have now spent the first trimester at Belding High School with the new devices, and they have noticed many changes in the way they are learning and teaching on a daily basis.
“It’s a lot different, but I think once we started to get the hang of it, it became easier,” said senior Cody Scheidel.
Scheidel, 17, is a student in Ostrander’s AP literature class. Last Thursday, as Scheidel and other students took a multiple choice quiz on their iPads, it was only moments later that Ostrander had the results and was able to discuss them with students.
“While they are taking the quiz, I’ll get real-time data on how they are doing,” Ostrander said. “Immediately, when they are done, I’ll be emailed a report that I can put on the projector in the classroom in front of the kids. We can look at a question that everybody got wrong, discuss it and find out why.”
Ostrander said the ability to have instant results and discussions with his students with the information from a quiz still fresh in their minds has made a big difference.
“The power of that as a classroom teacher is phenomenal,” he said.
His students shared the same opinion.
“Instead of waiting to see where I went wrong, I can find out immediately,” Scheidel said. “The question is still fresh in our mind. It helps to retain the information.”
The fact that 16-year-old junior Carrie Smith no longer has to spend the day worrying while waiting a day or two for test results has, to her, been enjoyable.
“It takes away a lot of the stress of worrying about how you did,” she said. “We remember information from the test a lot better because we’re not finding out how we did a few days from now.”
Ostrander’s real-time iPad quiz is just one of many ways the new devices are being incorporated throughout the Belding school district.
“Kids can now get their education at any time, wherever they are,” Ostrander said. “However, the iPad is not going to replace the classroom — it’s expanding it. I think there’s some fear that all of a sudden kids are going to be on a computer all day and everything is going to be online. Education is moving to a 24/7 world, just like everything else.”
But like all things that are exciting and new, there are consequences, especially with a device that is designed for electronic gaming.
Principal Brett Zuver said while the iPads have been good for the district, the gaming capabilities of the devices have also been a distraction to students.
“There are students who are playing games when they shouldn’t be, but this is the first time they’ve been able to have a device such as this,” Zuver said.
Zuver said as time has passed throughout the school year, students have become better acclimated with the devices and appear to be less distracted and playing less games from when they first received the devices.
“Students eventually get a little bit of a wake-up call and realize they need to focus and use the devices as they are intended, as an educational tool,” he said. “Students now have to get used to having the world at their fingertips.”
Students agreed that the ability to play games at any time from anywhere has been a distraction while in school.
“There’s definitely problems with the iPads,” Scheidel said. “With the lower grade levels, I’ve seen kids sitting out of class playing games. It can be a huge distraction for someone who’s not mature enough to view it as a tool instead of a gaming device.”
For senior Cody Vanburen, 17, he said the temptation to play a game while in class can sometimes get the better of him.
“In one class I played Light Bike with the guy next me,” he said. “There’s a negative side effect to that because I wasn’t doing homework. Video games are very distracting.”
However, several students said they believe the responsibility lies mostly on themselves.
“I, personally, am glad I have an iPad, but I believe it all depends on the person, whether they view it as a tool or a gaming device, and I definitely view it as a tool,” Scheidel said. “It’s made my senior year a lot easier.”
“I think it depends on the student,” Smith added. “Some people will use them for school and others will just sit there and play games.”
Smith said being distracted because of games on the iPad is not a new concept.
“If we weren’t messaging on our iPads, we’d be texting on our phones instead,” she said. “There’s always something to distract us.”
Students and teachers seem to agree that the benefits of the devices outweigh the negative distractions.
“If you put a device in front of them that has unlimited access to a million games, they are going to play,” Ostrander said. “Still, I think the positives outweigh the negatives and things will improve.”
When finding a solution for the distracting games, Ostrander said the responsibility lies with the student and teacher.
“I think there certainly needs to be intrinsic motivation to want to do well and I think students have that,” he said. “But as a teacher, if I’m not engaging them, I’m culpable, as well. I have to do my part to make sure they want to stop playing a game and want to be engaged in their learning.”
According to Zuver, results on the iPad one-to-one program have been good to this point.
“It’s been a very good initiative, thus far,” he said. “Education has changed and has continued to evolve at a very rapid pace. We need to do everything we can in our power to ensure that our students here in Belding have the same opportunity that students have in New York, Los Angeles or Tokyo, Japan. We want our students to be able to reach and tap into the same resources as those students.”