Solve this math riddle: Geometry teacher Matthew Patty has 63 students on 12 different middle school campuses. He can only teach class the first and last period of the day. How does he get it done?
Two words: iPads and wireless internet. Welcome to distance learning in 2012.
Patty is leading the District’s first iPad pilot project to see whether the hand-held tablet computers can help engage students while making the most efficient use of teachers.
The District chose to pilot the project with advanced eighth grade students taking geometry, because there aren’t enough students on any one campus to warrant a dedicated teacher. Students typically take geometry in the 10th grade.
Patty can teach the class from anywhere in the District, but he usually rotates among the campuses so that students see him every one to two weeks. A campus staff member is assigned to monitor the students in each classroom when Patty isn’t there.
Patty uses a Promethean board, a webcam, and an iPad to teach, and students “attend” class through an app that lets them see and hear Patty, ask questions, and submit assignments.
Patty said he teaches just as he would in a traditional class, but the students are actually more engaged because of the iPads.
“They are enveloped by the iPad,” Patty said. “There’s no issue keeping them on task because they are excited about it.”
Sam Hennon, an eighth grader at Connally Middle School, said he wishes he could take more classes with an iPad.
“It makes it more entertaining, honestly,” he said. “He can show us exactly what we need to do every day.”
Sam said the physical absence of his teacher most days doesn’t affect his learning. When Patty isn’t there, he and his classmates often work together to figure out problems.
“When he’s not here, it’s just as easy as when he’s here,” he said.
At the beginning of the year, students and their parents were required to attend a training session that covered appropriate and inappropriate uses of the iPad. Students understand that the iPad is a tool, not a toy, Patty said.
Linda Mora, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said there have been a few technical glitches with the wireless connection that the District is working to resolve. After the iPad pilot is finished, the District will evaluate the program to see if it could be used by other classes, she said.
Given the budget cuts the District has endured, iPads could definitely help contain personnel costs, but “we want to make sure that the iPads offer true instructional benefits to teachers and students before we expand their use,” Mora said.