On a recent Thursday morning, fourth-graders at Central Christian School in Clayton used iPads to prepare for a geocaching trip at Forest Park. The students planned to research geocaching online and then use GPS devices the next day to locate hidden treasures left throughout the park by visitors.
It's just one way fourth-grade teachers Nate George and Karen Brown are using the Apple devices to teach kids about math, English and other subjects.
So far, Brown said, the experience has been fantastic. A grant obtained at the end of last year paid for 35 iPads that are kept at each student's classroom desk. Before that, the fourth-graders borrowed 11 of the devices available to the whole school.
"But we hogged them a lot," Brown said jokingly.
The one-to-one ratio of iPads and students means programs—known in the iPad world as apps—can be catered to help students master areas that are academically challenging. For example, students can compose a piece of writing, submit it and get instant feedback, as opposed to waiting for a teacher's review.
"It's individually engaging," Brown said.
The main challenge the teachers now have is weeding through apps to find those that offer practical instruction as opposed to a few minutes of fun with little or no learning component. They've been talking with teachers at other schools in the St. Louis area to get recommendations.
Parents say they see improvement in their students' learning, Brown said. Several of the programs used on the iPads can be explored on a home computer, allowing learning to continue.
Fourth-grader Daniel Martin said he has used the iPads to research explorers such as Christopher Columbus, to learn math and to find locations using Google Earth.
"It's a little more fun than just getting out pencil and paper and writing," Martin said.
Classmate Xavier Silva, who also has used Google Earth as well as a Bible app, said he's also concerned about iPad safety.
"Our teachers always want us to hold it with two hands so that we don't drop it," Silva said.
He thinks iPads fit his generation of students. Both Silva and Martin come from homes that use the devices.
"It's a privilege for us," Silva said.
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