Quaker Valley embraces new technology

Monday, September 16, 2019 | 6:01 AM

Students sitting in social studies classes at Quaker Valley middle and high schools can take a virtual tour of the Golden Gate bridge from inside their classroom.

In math class, students can answer a problem right on their iPad screen — showing the work they’ve done — and their teacher will immediately know if students understand what has been taught. The teacher can move on or slow down and repeat, if necessary.

In science, students can snap a picture of the molecule model their teacher is showcasing and add it to the notes they’ve either typed or hand-written on their iPad.

Multiple new teaching tools are a benefit of switching from laptops and Chromebooks to iPads, teachers and administrators say.

“It’s all about finding that perfect balance of meeting kids’ needs and what’s best to help them learn and achieve,” said Karyn Dobda, director of innovation and strategic initiatives.

Quaker Valley was the first school district in Pennsylvania to go one-to-one, meaning one device for every student. For the last several years, students at the high school have used Dell laptops, while students at the middle school have used Chromebooks.

It was time for an update, and with Cloud storage now being offered on mobile devices, district leaders selected to move to the iPad for both schools starting this year.

Options for the new devices were reviewed. The district looked at what best would meet the needs of Quaker Valley students and visited a school in Erie that uses iPads to see how it works for them, Dobda said. Teacher and student input also was sought as part of the process.

In May, board members voted unanimously to approve the purchase of 545 iPads for students and staff at the middle school at a cost of $233,830.

In June, board members agreed in a 6-2 vote to a three-year lease for 725 iPads for students and staff at the high school at a cost of $130,263 a year, or a $390,791 total.

Board members David Pusateri and Marna Blackmer dissented.

Both agreements included technical support from Apple.

The iPads were distributed to students during the first four days of school.

They come with a protective case that includes a removable keyboard.

The district already had been using the learning management system Schoology, where teachers can post assignments and activities online for students to access.

On the iPads, the district selected two main apps to start with, including Notability, where students can take notes either by typing or writing by hand. They can draw diagrams and mark things that are meaningful to them.

Nearpod, the other primary app, is a presentation tool where teachers can post a quick quiz to see what the students are learning, or show them a skeleton in 3D.

This makes learning more interactive.

“What this does is, instead of being more teacher centered, it makes the classroom more student centered,” Dobda said. “We have the tools to tailor and meet the individual needs of kids.”

If a student would rather record a presentation instead of getting up in front of the class, the iPad provides that opportunity.

Students can purchase a stylus to help make writing on the iPad easier.

Matt Littell, a science teacher at Quaker Valley High School, said about half his students now type their notes on the iPad, while the other half take notes by hand, also on the iPad. There are still some students who use pen and paper.

All of the technology doesn’t mean the elimination of books or pen and paper. It’s about finding a balance that helps students learn best, Dobda said.

A physics book Littell uses is from 2006. While Littell has copies of the book in his classroom, students can download copies onto their iPads and read it like an ebook. They can even highlight and mark the online book.

Littell sees the iPads as a way to help students learn digital organizational skills. Another advantage is that students are printing less materials, because they now can write on handouts digitally, instead of needing a paper copy.

Students say there are pros and cons to the new devices, and it takes time to adjust.

Annie Hrabovsky, 18, a senior, said the internet is faster on the iPads. The laptops would often get disconnected and students would have to wait to reconnect.

One of the problems on the iPad she has encountered is accidentally bumping the lock button located on the keyboard, and locking herself out of the device.

Nicole Shaheen, 16, a junior, said she likes that the iPads are more portable. But she doesn’t like the keyboards, which she equated to typing on air.

Mikayla Sallese, 15, a sophomore who serves as the Peer Help Desk tech manager, said the laptops were “very slow and almost glitchy” at times, while the iPads operate much faster.

However, they don’t print in color.

The school has laptops available to students. But Sallese jokes it takes 10 minutes to print something because of how slow the old devices are.

“I personally like it,” she said of the iPads.