INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Starting this year, Lake Tahoe School is pioneering a bold three-year iPad experiment. Every 5th- through 8th-grade student has been given an iPad to use in classes and at home.The idea is to provide students with a relevant 21st century education that builds on the strengths of the LTS philosophy, blending traditional educational values with technical skills that students will be using long into the future. An added goal of this initiative is to reduce the use of paper, and more importantly the expense and waste of costly toner that fills each printed page.Although LTS refers to this aspect of the iPad as "going paperless," that is not to imply that students won't use paper journals on the school's trademark outdoor education trips nor will they will give up using paper for art classes or other places where paper and pencil make the most sense.Students have already been shown how to use an array of apps for their iPads, starting with Schoology, a course management system (CMS) which is used by every teacher to post assignments, provide on-line quizzes and tests, maintain a grade book, take attendance, and even collect written assignments.Schoology is an application that is accessible via a web browser, an iPad or iPhone app, as well as an Android app; providing convenience and access to classwork anywhere students or their parents have Internet access. Many LTS students end up missing some days of school to attend ski camps and other family activities, and Schoology allows them to keep up better with their studies without any special accommodation on the part of the teachers. Students that miss school for sick days similarly know precisely what material is being covered, allowing them to spend their time at home keeping abreast of the class.So far, the parent response has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents have the ability to access the system with a special parental view so they can easily tell what homework their child has pending for at least the following two weeks. Parents also can see grades and attendance along with comments on grades, should the teacher wish to provide more information.Another application the students have been introduced to is Evernote, one of the most popular applications in the Apple App Store. Evernote was not designed for schools; it is considered a "productivity" tool, and that is precisely what the goal is with this tool in LTS classrooms. Students will use it for a number of functions, from taking notes, to collecting research from websites, to acting as a replacement for up to seven different binders previously used for each subject.As one might imagine, student backpacks will be substantially lighter and less bulky. Evernote is a great tool for teaching students organizational skills and at the same time, the way LTS will be using it, students can complete writing assignments that are automatically delivered in real time to the teacher. Evernote is a cloud-based service so students can work on their assignments and consult their notes from any computer or iPad that has Internet access, just as Schoology offers such access for assignments and grades.Last in the trio of primary applications students are using is Google Drive. Each student at LTS has a free Google Apps account which includes 5 gigabytes of free storage which is referred to as Google Drive. Students have the ability to access files stored in their Google Drive folder on their home computer, any of the school's MacBook or PC computers, as well as on their iPads - the Google Drive application managing the synchronization of files to these devices behind the scenes.Students have created a shared folder with each teacher, so any file the student places in that folder is instantly accessible to the teacher. Through this mechanism student work is turned in as soon as the student is finished with it, not the next day and without the possibility of it getting lost between the students house and the classroom. No more dog-ate-my-homework excuses. An added benefit is that, for long assignments, teachers can monitor the progress of each student and can offer assistance all along the way.Teachers can use the powerful facilities of applications such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat Reader to electronically mark up an assignment, much as they had using paper and pen. The graded assignment is instantly available to the student to review and possibly correct.Russ Bradford, director of technology at Lake Tahoe School, brought a handful of students in during the summer to be trained as "iPad Assistants." This program was designed to help flesh out the difficulties in training 10-, 11-, and 12-year olds the concepts and apps the middle school would be using and at the same time it was designed to seed each classroom with students that could help their classmates when problems arose.Mr. Bradford also enlisted the aid of a number of willing parents to be trained as parent helpers to answer questions for other parents that might have trouble getting their home computers set up to integrate with the overall scope of the program. Each student's home computer needs to have Google Drive and Evernote installed in order to complete the setup.It has only been a couple weeks since the program got under way, but already grades are being posted, quizzes being taken, assignments being turned in. There were bumps along the way, and certainly more to come, but the response is still positive and the enormous amount of time that went into planning and setting up this program should more than be rewarded with more time available in each class for instruction.The 5th grade is planning to introduce the iPads over the course of the year, little by little adding greater and greater emphasis and reliance on the iPad until the students are prepared to make the transition into 6th grade where they will be fully immersed in using the iPad throughout their scholastic day.Lake Tahoe School is proud to be a pioneer at such an exciting time. The investment in time and money should be richly rewarded with a more relevant education that better prepares students for high school, college, and the business world, even if their next school does not offer a similar program. Today's students have grown up in a world of electronic gadgets, but the difference in using an iPad for real and substantive work versus as a medium for entertainment cannot be underestimated.The skills LTS students will emerge with are precisely those skills that will allow American workers to compete toe-to-toe with the most advanced workers the world over. The fact that most of the graduates are 14 years old gives them a solid foundation on which to build toward that future.
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