It was completely quiet in Cathy Pons’ science class at St. James Middle School last week as 30 students worked on their iPads, learning the phases of the moon.
Some were using the iMovie app to make movies about the moon, while others were at a lab station, using cookies to illustrate the different phases, which they photographed and incorporated into their assignment. Everything was done via their iPads, allowing each student to be creative in their own way and send their work to Pons for immediate feedback.
“It’s more interactive and a lot more fun,” said Jacob English, 14, as he worked in the lab, and Pons agreed.
“The iPads really get them engaged,” she said. “I’ve been teaching 30-something years, and it’s changed everything I do. This is the greatest thing we’ve ever done for our children.”
Middle school students and teachers across Horry County Schools are discovering new ways of learning now that each has their own iPad, new digital content and a host of helpful apps. The devices make it easier for students to work at their own pace, work with a partner and share with the class, which gives teachers more options for instruction and classroom management.
The district distributed 9,600 iPads to its middle schools in January as the first phase of its personalized digital learning initiative. 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. The rollout of digital devices will continue in the fall for grades nine through 12 and in fall 2015 for grades three through five.
Lauren Macheski, an eighth-grade math teacher at St. James, said having the devices has made things easier for her students, who had to use desktop computers in the school’s computer lab before iPads allowed them to be grouped in one room.
“I had one student who shouted out, ‘I love this learning in small groups,’?” Macheski said. “They’re all starting to come alive.”
Middle school students aren’t strangers to technology, having grown up with the rise of smartphones and tablets. Even students without devices at home have a knack for learning how to use them quickly.
“It was actually easy to catch on,” said Annabel Hutchens, a sixth-grader at Forestbrook Middle School. She said her family doesn’t own an iPad, but she had already used her device at school to create a detailed movie about the hierarchy in Japan for her social studies class.