Half the sophomore class of East Jessamine High School received iPads when they came to their first day of school Tuesday — the latest part of an innovation project at the school aimed at changing the way learning happens.
Project 225 began with last year’s freshman class signing a graduation contract and using standards-based grading. Now sophomores, half the class was chosen for the iPad project — 90 in the “blue group” who had completed algebra II or were strong in geometry, and 60 in the “green group” who teachers thought would blossom with additional technology and smaller classes.
Tuesday was the first day of school for the iPad students and all the freshmen, who will be out of the building tomorrow when most Jessamine County students start. Sophomores received their iPads and began setting them up in class Tuesday.
English teacher Tasha Bowlin sent 29 sophomores out of her classroom Tuesday afternoon armed with an assignment for their day off to research free apps for the iPads. Bowlin said the new tablets will free up the class schedule, which was sometimes difficult when she had to coordinate time in the computer lab for her students.
“Now, I have no restraints,” she said after class. “It really is complete freedom, where I can tell the students, like I just did, ‘I’m not going to see you tomorrow, but you can still work; you have these devices now that will allow you to do everything that I would normally have to do in the computer lab together.’ So it’s really freeing up any bars that were holding us back before.”
One overarching theme of Project 225 is to change the school day, getting away from what administrators call “rigid” bell schedules and flip-flopping the traditional schedule of instruction at school and work at home. Sophomores in the iPad groups will have a block of four and a half hours in the school day that will be divided as needed throughout the year among three teachers for language arts, math and science.
Principal Janet Granada told students and parents gathered for an information session Aug. 7 that high-schoolers need to learn at different paces much like children learn to walk at different ages.
“They started walking at different times, and that was OK. When they get to high school, we think they all learn the same thing at the same time, and that’s really a disservice to the kids,” she said. “So we want to look at changing the way that high school is done.”
The “classroom flipping” will involve students downloading teachers’ podcasts or videos and watching at home before hands-on work in school.
“Your homework that night will be to watch the teacher teach the lesson; your homework will be to come to school and work with them,” Granada said.
Bowlin said the iPads will allow students to have work at home that they couldn’t do before — freeing up even more time in class.
“We don’t have enough textbooks for students to take them home, so now, we can download electronic texts if we have to, and they can read them at home,” she said. “So in class, it’s not silent reading time; it’s let’s talk about what you have learned and let’s have discussions, and let’s see where we can take what you already know about this text and go further.”
The goal of the program is embodied in the “School of One” project in New York City that personalizes instruction to specific students. Assistant principal Joe Matthews told students Aug. 7 that standards-based grading was a big step toward that goal.
“The whole idea here is to respond to student learning, not just respond to another assignment or respond to another activity,” he said. “We’re really putting the focus on student learning and where you stand on this particular learning standard — where do you stand on this particular learning target?”
The school piloted one online-learning day last year when students stayed home and accessed teachers and school through the Internet. Granada said the school plans on five such days this year that will help prepare students for postsecondary school.
“When you go to college, quite a few classes are online classes,” she said. “We’re going to teach you how to be an online learner.”
East High borrowed the money for the iPads interest free from the board of education. Granada said the buy-in of the teachers is critical for the program’s success.
“I don’t think just throwing iPads on the school is going to solve anything; I think that’s a waste of money,” she said. “I think you have teachers like this who are dedicated who know how to use them to teach kids to know how to use them, and then they can teach other teachers in the building.”
This year’s freshmen also had their first day Tuesday and signed a graduation contract like the previous year’s class; they also received tassels to remind them of their graduation goal.