When Lisa Bagnell sees one of her students use an iPod during class, she's likely not apt to ask the child to put the device away or take the gadget from their hands. In fact, few days go by where all of her students are not using the Apple device during class time.
That is because Bagnell's fourth-grade focus class is one of seven classrooms in the Bartow County System utilizing the "iPod in the Classroom" labs the district purchased through technology grant funds. The grants went to the purchase of seven lab stations, each with 30 iPod Touches and a MacBook. The district's curriculum and technology department staff selected the applications of teachers who vied for the labs, and the chosen educators received professional development time to learn how to effectively use the technology.
"We wanted the teachers to fill out the grant and explain how they were going to be used in the classroom," said Eric Pearson, director of Technology Services for the system. "We want to make sure these are going to be utilized fully in a classroom and that they're going to be incorporated into the curriculum, so we made them go through the necessary steps to fill out an application.
"This is a big step for us. We're starting to take on more Apple products. We've bought a few iPads for the administrators. We bought some MacBooks and trying to mesh that with our Windows environment. I think Apple's taken off really well, especially in education," Pearson added. "We want to think out of the box -- we don't want to restrict ourselves in an Windows environment, and we want to be multiplatformed. We want to appeal to everybody's needs."
Bagnell's Mission Road Elementary classroom received one of the four iPod labs that went to teachers at the elementary level; two labs went to middle schools while the remaining lab went into a Woodland High classroom.
Through the use of the iPods' included applications and apps that can be downloaded for free, Bagnell's students have been able to research space and weather topics, including a Weather Channel app that allowed pupils to see what conditions are like in different locations around the world. Students also were able to find videos of tornadoes forming during their study.
Her class has also used math-related apps dealing with number lines, place value, measurement and money. Bagnell added that her students also can use an application aimed at building reading fluency, where a student reads into the microphone a passage displayed on the iPod -- he or she can then listen to themselves say the passage as they read it again.
"I just thought it would be such a neat way for these kids to learn, to use something that most of them would not have access to at home, that it would be an exciting tool that they could use to research, to learn, to do things that we've done in the past with paper, like flash cards and things like that," Bagnell said. "To be able to use technology to do that was just one more hook we could use to get them to engage learning.
"We try to set aside a time every day, for about 30 minutes, to be able to pull them out in whatever subject area we're talking about at that point," she added. "I don't usually get them out and let students just play on them -- we have a specific task in mind when we get them out."
Bagnell added that she will be looking for social studies-related apps as her class tackles the curriculum, which covers a large span of time -- the beginning of civilization in the Americas to the Civil War. Such programs also could help as her class discusses more modern history topics.
"I think for kids, it's so hard -- even when we talked about 9/11 a couple weeks ago, these kids were just born at 9/11, and so they don't have the mental pictures that we have from those events," she said. "To be able to put a mental picture with whatever you're talking about, to be able to put a physical location on a map -- many of these kids have never traveled out of this area, and they don't know where is New York in relation to Georgia, or where is Alaska in relation.
"With this being something new, this technology in the classroom, I think it's been a learning curve for all of them, for all of us, just because it's something we haven't used in the classroom before. We are a group that's piloting this particular project, and it would be great if we had somebody that would say, 'This app is aligned with this standard, and you can go there and you can figure out things your kids can do with it,' but we don't have that -- basically, we're having to do that as we go along, and we're having to search for these apps and things that will help us in the classroom. And you have to weed out the good and the bad, just like with anything else."
For eighth-grade science teacher Joe Baker, the iPods in his classroom have helped him utilize not only materials he had created in years past, but also create lessons that will help current and future pupils. Worksheets he used in prior years can now be turned into computer files that can be viewed on the iPod as students take notes.
With the iPods, students have been able to listen to science-themed "podcasts," or downloadable audio files, that Baker created prior to this school year. During one class session earlier this year, he recorded his students singing a song about atoms to the tune of "The Addams Family," which he was then able to be put in a podcast and post the file online. Students are also able to view video podcasts, or "vodcasts."
"Virtually, they're doing the same work, but you're getting them more involved because they're able to use an iPod, which is current technology," the Cass Middle School educator said. "They're able to use that and able to do the same work you've done in the past, but now they're using stuff they can relate to.
"I wanted to use current technology," Baker added, referring to why he applied for the iPod lab. "You see kids with iPhones, you see kids with iPods all the time, and instead of battling that technology in the classroom -- 'Hey, put this up,' 'Hey, you're going to get written up because you're using that' -- why not let them use it in here?"
"It's fun and it's cool," said Biury Reyes, a student in Baker's class, on getting to use the iPods for online research. "I think it's really cool because not all the schools have iPods, and it's cool that our classroom has to use them."
Reyes' classmate Lane Carnley said he enjoyed the lab safety podcast Baker created, adding that the ability to do online research without leaving his desk has been helpful as he and his classmates work on a semester-long project.
"Recently, we've been working on a catapult project, and we've done a lot of research on it online," he said. "Mr. Baker has his own website and we go there for a lot of things. He has links and we go there and just find catapult stuff."
"It's a plethora of information at their fingertips. That's what it really comes down to," Baker said. "[And] when they see the cart, the kids just get excited. The excitement level goes up and makes learning much more fun. You're not using the same old textbook or the 'kill-and-drill' kind of techniques you'd use with worksheets. I wanted to embrace it. I knew that it would be engaging -- that once I got my feet wet with it that it would take off, and it has.
"When you're in here, you can hear a pin drop," he added. "It's just because they're engaged, they're doing something with something that's new to them. It's like, 'This is different, how often do we get to do this?'"
Bagnell said her students too have shown enthusiasm over their use of the iPods.
"They ask me every morning, 'Are we going to get to use them today?'" she said. "They were so excited at the beginning of the year before we even got them, as I told them that they were coming. They started telling their friends, and I would have kids from other classes coming to the door and saying, 'Is this true? Are you really getting these?' [My students] were so proud that they were getting to be a part of this, and I just thought that was a great incentive for them to come to school -- because it's something that they want to do and it's something different than what everybody else is getting to do."
Only time will tell if the technology will help students achieve better marks on their report cards and standardized tests, but Bagnell believes it will have a positive effect.
"I would hope that something that they've actually experienced would stick with them better than something that we just read about. Being able to see how a tornado is formed or seeing a hurricane in action is going to be something that they're much more likely to keep in their minds versus just reading and hearing about it," she said.
Bagnell and Baker say they believe the future of education could involve putting iPods or similar handheld devices within the reach of students.
"There's so many things you can do with it," Baker said. "Just think about all the apps that are out there -- you watch the commercial, 'There's an app for this, an app for that' -- I knew that with all these apps and having a class set on top of that, everybody could get involved, because not everyone's got a cell phone or can afford an iPod, so I knew if I could get a class set, that's why I jumped all over this.
"It needs to go there. Everybody, every school, every classroom needs to have this stuff."
"I see you being able to differentiate your instruction so well with these because you can download [apps] specifically for a student," Bagnell said. "I know in my classroom, I have them assigned per student, so I could say, 'Well, Johnny needs to work on this,' and download things specifically that he needs to work on so that he can work on his pace and his skill level, whereas maybe Suzie can go a little but further and I can give her something else she can do for enrichment.
"I see this being a huge trend -- if they can afford them, that will be the thing," she added. "And we'll see about durability -- I don't know how well these are going to hold up with a year's worth of use, but we'll see. Hopefully they'll last for a long time, and as long as we can continue to upgrade them and keep the data on them current -- which with them being Internet accessible, there shouldn't be a problem with that -- I can't see these being anything but just a huge boon to the classroom."