WORTHINGTON — With dance music pulsating through Worthington Middle School’s cafeteria Monday morning along with plenty of colorful, flashing lights, there was definitely a party vibe.
Rightfully so, since the school’s eighth-graders were being presented with their much-anticipated iPads.
“We wanted to make this a big deal because this new technology is really exciting,” WMS Assistant Principal Tony Hastings said while students examined — and began getting instructions on how to use — their new devices. “We thought this was a great chance to do a fun sort of showcase for the students.”
In addition to the festive sights and sounds, WMS teacher Scott Burns hosted a skit modeled on the reality TV show “Survivor” in which students competed to determine what was the best learning device. Included were such common classroom tools as a white board, a manual typewriter, a blackboard and chalk, and even the relatively modern — by comparison, anyway — a desktop computer and a laptop. Predictably, the pupil with a new iPad crushed his foes, researching answers to questions quickly and accurately.
Given a choice of prizes for winning, the student opted for something not on the host’s list: iPads for everyone. On cue, distribution then began.
“Students are going to work this morning on training and the teachers have powerpoints on what the kids will be able to do,” Hastings said. “A lot of the classes will have particular apps they’ll use, and I think a lot of their textbooks will load on the iPads, as well. Some (classes) may not be as adaptive to the iPads as others, but we’re still going to find a way to use them as learning tools.”
The District 518 school board opted this past spring to move forward with securing iPads for student and teacher use, with grades 3 through 8 to begin benefiting from the technology this fall. In addition to WMS eighth-graders receiving the iPads Monday morning, ALC seventh- and eighth-graders got them Monday afternoon. Another special program for WMS seventh-graders will take place this morning as they receive their devices.
Selection of the iPad as a new learning tool came after considerable deliberation from a Learning Device Initiative committee, said Amy Ernst, the district’s technology director.
“We met frequently from October through May in trying to decide what to use,” Ernst said. “We actually looked at a lot of devices ... and there are a lot of people in education that have used the iPad, so we knew we could get a lot of training and support. There are also lots of educational apps available, which is real exciting.”
Ernst called the efforts to get the iPads ready for the students “massive,” and the work is continuing.
“When we actually, physically got them here, just to get them out of the box, inventory them, get the cases out of the boxes and then get the cases on the devices, there were 20 people working a whole day for just the middle school,” she said.
Additionally, the iPads had to be integrated with a mobile device management system that allows for filtering of sites students will be unable to access, as well as them to be managed remotely. Ernst admitted that hasn’t been the smoothest of projects, considering the number of students (around 200 in just the eighth grade alone), but she was still pleased with the enthusiasm with which Monday’s presentation was met.
“Today was a wonderful day,” she said. “The kids were excited.”
So was Hastings, who explained the iPads will allow students to improve their work management as a result of the technology.
“We switched our schedule and now have advisory at the very end of the day, and teachers will have the opportunity to get the students organized and get things such as reminders on the iPads,” he said.
Hastings added that he was grateful to parents who have cooperated with the district in distribution of the devices, as well as the board for investing in the technology.
“We’re not replacing a teacher,” Hastings said. “This is a tool to enhance student learning, and we think that’s something to celebrate.”
Ernst added that distribution of the iPads to fifth- and sixth-graders could take place as early as next week, with the technology in the hands of third- and fourth-graders several days after that.