Byline: Terry Dickson
DARIEN | There is always something more interesting out the classroom window than the algebra problem on the board. And a classmate always has some intriguing gossip that trumps what the teacher is saying.
That's why McIntosh School Superintendent Al Hunter's recent observation in Katie Wise's science class illustrated how the use of iPads in classrooms work.
"Every child in here is engaged,'' Hunter said. "There's not a child in here talking to someone or looking out the window."
McIntosh County schools are among the few that have embraced iPads in everyday instruction. They have only 60 at the high school - way short of having one for each student - so they put 30 each on two carts and move them from class to class.
Wise was working a physics problem that was projected on an interactive board as the students looked at the same image, a "magic triangle,'' on their iPad screens.
"What does 't' stand for,'' Wise asked.
"Time,'' the students answered.
"Are you on your calculators? 132 what?'' she asked.
"Meters per second,'' they said.
And so it went, with the students looking at formulas laid out on a colored triangle, an image they can remember far better than lines on a page.
"I love my iPad. They're great,'' Wise said. "The calculator app, theirs is just like mine,'' so she doesn't have to go from student to student figuring out what's missing from an equation.
"They're working with their pretty triangles instead of one they drew,'' she said.
It also works better with testing. She can use an application to put tests on the iPads without having to make paper copies.
Wise said she gets test results instantly.
Although not a ringing endorsement, Ashley Brannon's observation that, "It's not as boring,'' explains why it works.
Instructional technology coordinator Natalie Slice was the first "guide teacher,'' having used technology in her classroom. She used an interactive board in her classroom, then taught high school teachers after class.
"That was the stepping stone,'' she said.
Perhaps, but now the McIntosh County school system is in knee-deep and planning for total immersion someday.
Money was and is a problem, but Hunter said it was one of the few times that poor performance and the lack of funding paid off.
"Our science scores were some of the worst in the state. We were so bad and we were so poor, they gave us a grant,'' he said.
In 2006, only 48 percent of 11 graders passed the state-mandated science test when they took it for the first time. In 2011, 92 percent passed. Over the same period, passing scores in math rose from 78 percent to 87 percent, English and language arts eased up from 87 percent to 90 percent and writing is up from 90 percent to 95 percent. When social studies dropped - and not by a little - Hunter saw what was missing.
"We only had the money for science. The same kids in science were in social students. My thought was maybe it's not the kids. Maybe we need to do it all areas,'' he said.
And that's the way they're headed.
In a work room, a group of teachers were entering "common core" lesson plans into the central computer system with ninth grade literature teacher Scott Brooker and environmental science teacher Meghan Mallory leading them.
The new testing standards adopted by 48 states will be more difficult and incorporate a lot of project work, Hunter said.
Brooker likes it because the new tests eliminate the reward for a lucky guess on a multiple choice test. …