It’s a different looking school class.
Of course, there are students and a teacher. And the whiteboard has plenty of writing on it, including the day’s assignment, just like normal.
But the desks, for the most part, are clear of binders and textbooks. And there are no worksheets to be seen.
Instead, students each have iPads at their fingertips.
It’s a Grade 8 science class at Surrey’s Frank Hurt Secondary, one of a dozen local schools that are part of a pilot program aimed at assessing the value of utilizing such technology in the classroom.
Instead of simply serving as information-gathering tools, says teacher Blair Miller, the iPads in his classes are being used to creatively express the things students have been learning about, such as cells, body function and today’s lesson: the immune system.
While some iPad-armed students may choose to relay their understanding of the science concepts through a stop-motion animation, others might film a skit or put what they’ve learned to music.
Blair said it has proven an interesting challenge for the teens to recreate the information and transform it into something interesting rather than “regurgitating” it back on a worksheet.
“By thinking about it and hopefully asking questions, they can develop understanding,” says Blair, noting as they learn new concepts, students can add to and refine their projects.
In a hallway downstairs, Nolan Lockhart and Abby Fajayan are working on a movie that will illustrate how the immune system kicks into action when a virus attempts take over the body. Using “characters” they’ve drawn and cut out like mini-puppets to represent things like antibodies and white blood cells, the pair records the series of re-enacted bodily functions on the iPad, which they’ll edit into a short movie.
MaryJo Whelan, another Grade 8 student, has chosen to draw each stage of an immune system response on paper and take photos of her drawings with the iPad to make a stop-motion animation presentation.
“It’s really fun because you get the opportunity to experiment,” she says.
Students at Frank Hurt are also using iPads in English classes. Recently, Grade 8s were assigned to represent friendship in a multi-media way.
Abdul Khattab, 13, wrote a story called Within Dreams. But embedded in the story’s text are images that when clicked on, create an accompanying sound. For example, while a picture of a fall-coloured tree has sounds of crunching leaves, a photo of a night scene makes cricket noises.
“It’s really a lot better because it really comes alive,” says Khattab.
There are 12 schools involved in Surrey’s Innovative Learning Designs Project (Digital Integration Focus), a pilot program that began this fall. Other participating high schools include Guildford Learning Centre, Johnston Heights, Kwantlen Park and Princess Margaret. Elementary schools include Cindrich, Georges Vanier, Hazelgrove, Hillcrest, Maple Green, M.J. Norris, and Pacific Heights. The district purchased the iPads for the program. Each school applied to participate in the the pilot and will keep the iPads.
The use of the technology at each school varies. For example, George Vanier has targeted early learning and is using iPads with students with special needs. At Johnston Heights, where the devices are used in Grade 11 social studies, math, leadership and English classes, it’s the teachers who say they’ve been transformed – not so much due to the technology itself, but because of the increased collaboration and integration of curriculum
Eric Bonfield, a humanities teacher at Frank Hurt, is working with two high school classes – one using iPads and one without.
He feels it’s too early to tell whether the technology is making a difference. Students with iPads definitely have a more constant access to research and the opportunity to represent their learning differently, Bonfield says.
But he’s not certain what it will all mean for teaching and learning and critical thinking.
“We’ll see if it provides depth to the curriculum. Is it a serious tool that could be used? What can we do with it and where can we go with it?”