iPads add technological touch to Blue Heron science class
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Blue Heron Middle School sixth-graders Alycia Myers, McKinley Pruitt, Jacob Ralls and Sarah Miller get an advance look at the new iPad to be used in Roger Mills' science class next year. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND -- Some kids would do almost anything to get their hands on one of Apple's new iPad tablet computers, but a select group of sixth-graders at Blue Heron Middle School will need only to attend science class next year in order to reach that goal.

Teacher Roger Mills has earned the teacher equivalent of extra credit by securing six grant-funded iPads for use in his classes next year with the help of a $3,000 grant from the Port Townsend Education Foundation.

"Technology for its own sake is not a good thing," Mills said. "But it's a great hook for them to become interested in what they need to learn."

While there is the possibility that some students will get to take the devices home overnight, in most cases they will share them with others in an academic environment.

They will not have the ability to download videos and music or use the device as a gaming console.

Still, last week, the students had an immediate attraction to these bright shiny objects which stimulate their curiosity.

Motivator for learning

"New technology is a huge motivator for learning," Mills said. "And the iPad's advantage is that it is so very portable."

The iPad is a device that resembles an iPhone in the ability to run small applications, or "apps," that perform specific functions.

These programs can be reference- or news-oriented or can perform other functions such as word processing.

Additionally, the iPad stores digital books, giving students fast and free access to the equivalent of a small library.

Word about the iPad's arrival has already trickled through the school with the message that next year's sixth-graders will get something special.

Students try it out

On Thursday, Mills invited four of his students to play around with the device, and they competed for time with it.

Jacob Ralls, 12, took over controls because he was already facile in the use of the smaller iPod Touch, while the others jockeyed for position.

McKinley Pruitt, 13, edged Jacob aside, calling up a search engine and entering his first name.

"See, William McKinley was the 25th president," he said. "And Simon McKinley is a race car driver."

When Mills told the kids they had 30 seconds left with the iPad, they squeezed out every last bit of time.

One even jokingly threatened to flunk sixth grade so she could be in class with the iPad.

With six iPads in each class, each kid will get hands-on experience.

The class will divide into six small groups, then switch around so everyone gets a chance.

Some adults mistreat such devices to the breaking point, but Mills doesn't think that will happen in his classroom.

"These kids are used to handling expensive equipment," he said. "They are very careful, since they have been taught proper use of laptops since elementary school."

Mills, 48, has been teaching in the Port Townsend district for 19 years.

Technology in classrooms

He has always brought technology into the classroom, finding ways to connect with the students.

He realizes that not all students have home computers and has developed alternatives for those who do not: The school library, the computer lab, the public library and a friend's house.

This year, he said, many kids are using e-mail to send in questions about lessons.

The iPad has been criticized for its high cost, but that is not an obstacle to classroom use according to Mills.

"I've been looking for a small portable for use in the classroom for about two years," he said. "I thought about using the iPod Touch, but it's too small.

"The iPad costs about $500, which is a whole lot less than a $1,200 laptop," he said. "And it can download whatever books the student needs to read."

Mills thinks that kids who learn how to use the iPad will gain a long-term advantage.

"Kids that learn how to master today's technology will be better prepared to use whatever is in use when they enter the work force," he said.

For more details about the Port Townsend Education Foundation, see www.pteducationfoundation.org/.

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Jefferson County reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 13. 2010 10:41PM
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