Personalized digital learning takes off as Myrtle Beach middle school students receive iPads

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJanuary 6, 2014 

MATT SILFER FOR THE SUN NEWS. Buy Photo

  • iPad schedule

    Distribution will continue at the Horry County district’s other middle schools as follows: Aynor, Jan. 22; Black Water, Jan. 21; Conway, Thursday; Forestbrook, Jan. 13-14; Green Sea Floyds, Jan. 27; Loris, Tuesday; North Myrtle Beach, Jan. 15; Ocean Bay, Jan. 23; and St. James, Jan. 10.

Eighth-graders in Rebecca Shibley’s math class at Myrtle Beach Middle School sat patiently Monday morning as boxes were opened to reveal the new iPads they all had been waiting for.

“I guarantee Steve Jobs is smiling down on us,” said Chattan Johnson, 14, who said he doesn’t have his own iPad at home, but his step-mother has one for work. “I know how to use it. This will definitely make things easier for us, especially for assessments.”

Johnson received one of the 9,600 iPads being distributed to all Horry County Schools sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders as part of a new personalized digital learning initiative, which will put a digital device in the hands of each student in grades three through 12 over three years.

The Horry County school board put $2.2 million toward the initiative, which goes hand-in-hand with the district’s technology plan that is being paid for with capital funds. More digital devices will roll out next year for grades nine through 12, and for grades three through five in the third year.

Myrtle Beach Middle, one of the largest of the district’s middle schools, was the first to launch the program, and other middle schools will be receiving their iPads over the course of this month.

“It’s awesome – for us, the sooner, the better,” said Principal Janice Christy on being the first school to get the devices. “It shows the flexibility of our teachers and the flexibility of our students. Trying new things, working the kinks out – that’s the way we do business.”

Distribution was handled by grade level, with the eighth grade kicking off a process that went smoothly and fairly quickly. Each teacher had an instructional video to guide students through the set-up process, which required them to input their name and information to personalize each device.

Middle school teachers have been training for the initiative since August and received their iPads in October. The devices will allow classes to move to a blended learning model, which combines face-to-face teacher time with online instruction and lets students learn at their own pace.

Modules already were set on the iPads for math, English, science and social studies so that classes could begin working with the devices as soon as setup was complete. Students and teachers communicate via Edmodo – a secure platform described as Facebook for the classroom – for instructions and assignments, and while the preset modules guided the first lessons, teachers will begin tailoring their own plans to the devices.

“We’ve been learning all these wonderful things that now we get to use,” Shibley said. “They are going to allow us to differentiate instruction and really use the technology the district has purchased.”

Several district officials were on hand to witness the roll-out, and the HCS technology staff was in and out of classrooms to help students and troubleshoot any problems. English teacher Jacqueline Kennedy needed assistance for one question but said each group of her students had at least one “expert” who could help the others.

“I love it,” Kennedy said of the iPad initiative. “It gives [students] so many more options to explore the curriculum.

The iPads came with black, Gumdrop cases, which school officials say are used in most schools, and students will be required to complete a digital citizenship course to help them understand the responsibilities that come with their devices. They were required to have signed permission forms from their parents in order to receive a device and to be set up with the necessary online accounts.

Brittany Graham, 14, said her mother was excited about her getting an iPad because she thinks it will help her with her course work. Graham said it will be even better when they are able to take the devices home so they can have access to notes they take on the iPad in class.

For now, students will leave the iPads at school in trays the devices came in, which saves on the cost of iPad carts, about $1,200 each, said Ashley Gasperson, HCS coordinator of digital communications. The goal is for students to be able to take them home, hopefully by the beginning of next year, she said.

Gasperson said having the instructional video will allow students who were absent or who enroll late to set up their iPads as needed. Students who do not obtain parental permission for an iPad won’t be left out, but they will have to use generic accounts set up by the district rather than having their own.

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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