FALMOUTH — As soon as fifth-grade teacher John Carter breaks out his Apple iPad and launches the Grammar Dragon application, which is projected through an Apple TV onto a large screen, his class of excited 10- and 11-year-olds goes silent.
Then there are shouts of “adverb!” “adjective!” “noun – no pronoun!” as the class works together to identify the part of speech highlighted in each sentence to accumulate points. Eventually, a big bee floats across the screen and the kids know they’ve moved up a level. Quiet focus quickly erupts into celebration.
Carter’s class is not the only one using iPads at Falmouth Elementary School. Very soon, each classroom, from kindergarten through fifth grade, will have the tablet computers. There are 617 devices, so not every student gets his or her own, but the younger classes have eight per classroom and the older students have 12 per class.
The older kids have had the iPads for a little more than a month. The younger ones are getting theirs this week and will likely start using them after the holiday break.
The teachers have had their iPads since the summer, so they could get used to them and try out some of the free apps the school installed, or even find their own.
“It’s a lot more affordable than the software for laptops,” said Norm Jewett, who manages school technology.
Because so many apps are free, the school does not have to purchase expensive software like it does for laptop computers.
“We had a drawing program we used with the kids on the old laptops that was $50 per seat. Now we’re using a free app for that,” said Anne MacDonald, who teaches technology at the elementary school and has been working with the teachers to implement the new iPads in classrooms.
The iPads were purchased with designated technology funds made available by the state when it approved construction of the elementary school.
“With the kids, the iPads are so easy to use, you just hand it to them and they know. It’s completely intuitive,” MacDonald said. “And the apps are so interesting to the kids, they’re learning but they don’t know they’re learning.”
Jewett said the iPads are easier to maintain than laptop computers because they have fewer moving parts and fewer things to break.
“It’s a more powerful tool and it’s less expensive,” he said.
Second-grade teacher Kevin Grover said he has been using his iPad with students who might need to spend extra time on literacy work, and with kids who are ahead of their classmates in some subjects.
“I think a lot of teachers have seen the opportunity to create portfolios,” Grover said. “These could change the way we assess students, and how we do standardized testing.”
He said he has been surprised that some of the teachers who have been hesitant to pick up technology in the past have gravitated to the iPads.
“People who would be considered novices (with technology) are feeling confident with how easy it is,” Grover said.
He said he’s planning to roll out his eight classroom iPads this week ahead of the official “Steve Jobs-like deployment” after vacation.
Teachers aren’t the only ones excited about the new iPads.
“It’s easier to use than a computer,” said 10-year-old Abbie Farmer, who is in Carter’s class.
Farmer said students in her Spanish class use an iPad app to create Spanish-speaking puppet shows and then play their creations for the class.
Kayla Sarazin, 10, said she likes that when she does something on her iPad during class, her teacher can put it up on the board for everyone in the class to see.
“He doesn’t even have to be in the room,” she said.
Fifth-grade teacher John Carter makes a recording of his class using one of the iPads that every Falmouth Elementary School classroom either already has or will soon have for students to use in a variety of classroom activities.