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Lodi classrooms go digital

Students in Lodi Unified School District eager to get their hands on iPads

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Posted: Friday, November 4, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:39 am, Fri Nov 4, 2011.

Standing in the front of her classroom at Tokay Colony Elementary School, Sonja Renhult turned away from the board where she was teaching her fifth- and sixth-graders about circles on Thursday.

“Open your iPads to Doodle Buddy and draw me a circle with a central point,” she instructed. Her students propped open the slim black cases on their desks to reveal an iPad. They tapped the screens to boot up a drawing application.

Each child selected a color and used their finger to draw a circle. Renhult asked the class to add a radius, then a diameter and a chord, in different colors. No problem.

“Clear your ink and draw me a new circle,” Renhult said. Easy. That took only two taps on the screen.

These students have moved beyond using a whiteboard to show their work in class. They are one of six classes that have worked with a set of iPad devices since the beginning of the school year in a pilot program run by the Lodi Unified School District. In all, 230 devices were purchased. The total cost for the devices, the software and ongoing teacher training is $189,373, paid for with grants.

In the classroom, the devices have been well received, incorporated smoothly among the traditional notebooks and folders.

Samantha Patton, a sixth-grader in Renhult’s class, likes to use the flashcards app, which Renhult updates each week with new vocabulary words.

“It’s easier because we don’t have to redo them,” she said as she shuffled her virtual deck with a swipe of her finger. It was a little confusing at first to manage the precise touchscreen, but not anymore, she said.

Behind this change in student work is a team of dedicated teachers in a range of grade levels who are passionate about technology and kids.

Kathryn Odell, an instructional technology coach, meets with the iPad team once a month to review any problems and work on how to best incorporate the devices into the classroom.

“It’s such a shift to have a device in the hands of each student,” she said.

The team has met for regular training sessions since June. Teachers from other districts who use iPads and professional trainers from Apple join the Lodi teachers to trade ideas.

“We’re not restricting the teachers at all. We told them to use what apps work for you in the classroom,” said Dale Munsch, director of technology services for the district.

And what exactly do the teachers use them for?

Children read newspaper apps for current event assignments and load the Pages app for writing. They use DropBox to turn in assignments. EdModo is a popular website for sharing files among classmates and the teacher team.

Soapbox allows kids to communicate with their teachers in real time, during instruction. If a student doesn’t understand the topic, they can anonymously select the “I’m confused” tab, and the teacher will know to slow down.

“Some students won’t raise their hands when they’re confused, but they will push a button,” said Chris Funge, a third-grade teacher at Larson Elementary School.

One popular app is Khan Academy, a free series of self directed worksheets and videos, which tallies up a student’s points after answering questions correctly. If Renhult’s class earns enough points as a whole, they get 15 minutes of time to play otherwise forbidden iPad games on Fridays.

Most of the apps Lodi teachers use are free, though they have an allowance of $500 for the year.

Setting up the devices is the biggest roadblock, mostly because it takes so much time. The iPads are stored in a cart where they are connected to a teacher’s computer. He or she then syncs newly downloaded apps or files to the student devices one by one. Once tucked away in the cart, the iPads are locked up.

Not a single one has been damaged. Teachers said the students are very careful with the devices and know using them is a privilege. Some even come in during recess just to use them.

“They don’t want to mess it up. They want to use it,” said Bryn Lym, a ninth-grade teacher at McNair High School.

The next step in the iPad pilot program is to test the devices at Henderson School, home to what the district considers an at-risk population.

Munsch said his team will update the school board on the program’s progress and the results of ongoing benchmark tests in January.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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