Students getting creative with iPod touch at North Rowan High
By Maggie Blackwell
It’s the size of a deck of cards, is less than half an inch thick and weighs a little over 4 ounces.
And it contains the complete works of Shakespeare, movies, a dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia, SAT preparation materials, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, USA Today, the Weather Channel and educational games.
It contains about 50 applications, or programs commonly called “apps,” and has room for 550 more.
It’s the iPod touch, and it’s the newest tool for teachers and students at North Rowan High School.
Principal Rodney Bass is proud of the new project.
“Students now have more knowledge in the palm of their hands then they would ever have through books or even during the general school day,” he said.
Each of the 222 freshmen at North Rowan has received a brand new iPod touch, thanks to Rowan-Salisbury School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom. She had seen the research on “one to one” learning ó every student having a device for personalized learning.
In November, she got the idea to acquire iPods for each freshman at North, and enough MacBooks so that each student would have one to use. Her goal was to find a way to engage students and improve teaching and learning at North.
She e-mailed Phil Hardin, the school system’s executive director of technology, who was on vacation. After learning Hardin could support such a project, Grissom met with Bass to see if he was on board with the idea. He was.
Within a month, the team had a two-day brainstorming session on the concept. In January, they had a video chat with another school that has used iPods. They ordered the equipment. They involved Apple in discussions all along the way. In February, they visited a school that uses the technology and met with parents of freshmen.
In April, the kids got their iPods. The system bought the equipment with a combination of grant money and local funding.
On Thursday, the school held an open house. Parents, visitors from Apple, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and other schools, administrators and elected officials attended to see what’s going on.
They were met, Grissom later wrote on the school system’s Web site, by students sharing “wonderful stories about how much this one technology tool had changed their academic life.”
But it’s not just putting iPods in the schools that makes the project so exciting for educators. It’s what students can do with them.
“We didn’t want the students to just have the iPods,” Hardin explained. “That way, they would just be spectators. By adding the MacBooks, they can learn and then demonstrate that learning. They own the knowledge. Research says kids in the Millennial Age want to create.”
Students in Natalie Wittich and Brandi Osborne’s English class have been creating. For a recent project, students studied John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The class was divided into teams, and each team reviewed one chapter of the book ó a podcast review. When all the work was complete, they had podcast chapter reviews for the entire book to study.
Freshman Michael Craig has always been a good student. He said the iPod helps him be a better student.
“I like the iPod because it’s right in your pocket. You don’t have to go find a book. Just look it right up. You can use different word processors on it, look at different Internet sources, download textbooks, all in your hand,” he says. “You’re in your own individual thing. You’re not distracted. It’s yourself. You’re paying attention right here, not over there.”
Fun with learning
Wittich and Osborne say students learn even while having fun. A game they loaded on the devices, “Word Warp,” presents scrambled letters and the students have a limited time to make as many words as possible from them.
Osborne says the teachers have begun letting the students play it as the class transitions from one exercise to another. It minimizes the noise. Wittich says she observes students playing it at lunch, even in the halls.
Samantha Jacobs says it’s addicting. She plays it after completing her work, and even at lunch.
Students and teachers laugh when they remember the day a student used a new word.
“I don’t think that’s what the author inferred,” Justin Ogg said.
The teachers admit they made a big deal about it.
Justin blushed. “I do pay attention,” he said. He had learned the word on Word Warp. As the class made over him, he took it all in.
“See,” Osborne says. “They are integrating what they learn.”
Quantasia Dudley loves her iPod. “I look at the Spanish reviews on it. I don’t take Spanish, but I saw it and played with it.”
Dylan Meyers is tech-savvy his teachers say. They explain an assignment, and Dylan goes around the class helping others understand how to access the apps.
“I’m not crazy about reading,” Dylan says. “Sometimes we have to read. On the iPod I can listen to it.”
Attendance seems to be improving since the project began. In the month since iPods were introduced, absences have dropped 4.6 percent. Tardies have also dropped.
One of the first projects the teachers developed spanned all subjects. Students learned about philosophers in history and science. They talked about Euclid and Pythagoras in math and Julius Caesar in English. All the information was in the tiny iPods.
“I wrote my paper for first block, then I worked on third block and realized it related to my paper. I went back to my paper and added it,” Michael Craig said.
Samantha Jacobs agreed. “It was more interesting, because it all related,” she said.
Even the act of writing papers has changed. Of course, students still use paper and pencil. But on occasion, they “thumb” type their work into the device, then e-mail it to the teacher. She grades it via computer or iPod, and e-mails it back to them.
Building for the future
The project happened very quickly, despite a huge amount of behind-the-scenes work. The freshman wing of the school had to have a wireless network. The iPods had to be programmed ó all 222 of them. Same with the MacBooks. All technology had to be firewalled ó set up so that unauthorized users could not get in and students could not go to unauthorized places. It’s harder than it sounds.
Misuse has been prevented as much as possible. The iPods have been configured so they will not work with any network other than the one at North. Inscribed on the back of each iPod are the words, “Property of Rowan-Salisbury School System.” Area pawn shops have been alerted to decline any iPod touches with these words on the back.
Before receiving the iPods, each freshman had to bring a signed permission slip. In the form, parents committed to pay the purchase price of $300 if the student lost the device.
Teachers say the first day, a few students had not turned in their forms. All the other students got their iPods, and those without their forms had to continue to use books. On the second day, those students ran in, waving their forms.
In the fall, new freshmen will receive iPods, and the current freshmen will take their iPods with them to sophomore year. The school will repeat that the next year and, by the fourth year of the program, the entire student body will be learning with iPods.
Other schools want to start iPod programs. Overton Elementary School just won a grant from the Robertson Foundation to purchase iPods for fifth-graders to use. School administrators are visiting from Mt. Airy and Asheville.
And they have a good model in North Rowan.
“I applaud the students and staff at North for doing such a wonderful job of implementing this project!” Grissom wrote on the system Web site.
– – –
To see a podcast developed by North Rowan student Michael Craig, visit www.salisburypost.com. Scroll down to “Salisbury Postables.” Click the “play” button below the American flag.