McAllen Independent School District (ISD) is feeling the benefits of an ambitious technology plan that places an iPod or iPad in the hands of every teacher and student.
Educating for the 21st Century
The initiative began with a meeting between Dr. James Ponce, McAllen's superintendent of schools, and a “cadre” of about 35 teachers, administrators and parents.
The group's primary goal was to build a 21st-century classroom environment, one that fosters the creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship needed for success in today's economy. The group also wanted to find a way to harness the 24/7 educational potential of the Internet – and teach students the critical-thinking skills needed to process online content.
“It's an environment where the teachers become the primary learners, and the students are driven by their example,” Ponce says. “So we asked what tools we would need for this transformation of the way we teach and the way the kids learn.”
After much research, the group chose iPods (for grades K-2) and iPads (for teachers and grades 3-12) because of their portability, relatively low cost and ease of use. To implement the plan's first stage, McAllen ISD issued 5,800 of these devices to teachers and students; when the rollout is complete, it will cover more than 25,000 students.
Big Benefits for Teachers and Students
Both teachers and students are seeing significant benefits from this innovative program.
“The iPods help the kids be creative. My students are organizing information in new ways,” says Ruth Whiddon, who teaches first grade at Andrew Jackson Elementary School.
Her students like using their iPods to practice spelling words, build calendars and create multimedia presentations.
For Carol Ann Allen, International Baccalaureate coordinator and eighth-grade language arts teacher at Michael E. Fossum Middle School, the initiative is all about collaboration.
“I've learned more from my fellow teachers than I have in many years, just from sharing ideas for how to use the iPads in the classroom,” she says.
Sandra Guerra, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math at Fossum, says the iPads have changed both her teaching style and the way her students learn.
Instead of mapping out the learning process step-by-step, she now gives her students their end goal and lets them choose how to get there.
“With this approach, they own their learning, and they've been more willing to learn,” Guerra says.
The iPads have also been a game-changer for Guerra's family.
Her seventh-grade daughter is learning advanced science concepts because of independent iPad projects. And, because most of her children's school materials are on their iPads, it's easier for Guerra to check on their progress from home.
That kind of scenario, says Superintendent Ponce, is at the heart of the initiative.
“The entire school system and our community want to lead in this effort to build a 21st-century learning environment,” he says. “This is a direct investment in our children and their families.”
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