Room 8 Innovates at Heath Middle School
written by Julie Garbus
Angela Arvola, a 7th grade language arts teacher at Heath Middle School, had never used an iPad before she received them through a Success Foundation grant. But she quickly got up to speed with the technology. Now, she runs a pilot classroom for iPad use at Heath. Seventh graders in Arvola’s Room 8 use iPads to get up to speed on skills they’ll need to become productive 21st century citizens—and also the everyday reading, writing, organization, and self-discipline abilities that students have needed to succeed since long before the year 2000.
Arvola reports that engagement is higher than it’s ever been in her class. She says the iPads fostes 21st century skills. One is innovation: “As the children are able to have their own creativity tied up in the work, it allows them to think outside the box.” Another is collaboration: students can work with someone across the room by using the White Board app, where whatever one partner draws shows up on the others’ iPad. Students also enjoy sharing their work using Apple TV, where they can project what’s on their personal iPad to a screen the whole class can see.
These aspects aside, what stands out in Room 8 is how well iPads help students learn mundane but essential aspects of language arts. For example, Arvola uses her iPad to create a “flipped classroom,” which inverts the old-fashioned model in which teachers lecture during class and students later study that same material at home. Instead, at home, students watch a video she’s created using iMovie on the iPad—about, say, parts of speech or homophones. They then download and complete assignments about the topic. If their family lacks Internet access, students can watch the video and do the work during lunch on Room 8’s iPads. In class, students practice grammar using an electronic whiteboard where they write their answers using a stylus or a finger. They take notes and write about literature using the Pages app, where they can color-code their answers to match the elements required for statewide assessments. When they write personal narratives, they add photos they’ve edited. They play language games such as “Analogies 4 Kids” on their iPads and research topics mentioned in the books they’re reading. Arvola says that the iPads make learning reading and writing fun. “I can teach so many more concepts with such ease . . . if I can find a game on the Internet or an app that uses that information, they are so much more willing to apply their knowledge to the game,” reports Arvola.
When asked about their favorite iPad features, the students mentioned these things: Organization tools that have made adults’ lives so much easier that it’s hard to remember what life was like before we had them. Taking notes on a computer “so your hand doesn’t get tired.” Access to online dictionaries and spell-check. The ability to keep documents in one place. “If we didn’t have the iPad, we would lose things.” Not having to lug around reams of paper. “Without the iPad our binders would get stuffed with papers and they would all fall out . . . We’re saving trees!”
Having the iPads, Arvola notes, fosters learning skills that transcend specific subjects. The devices have curtailed classroom rowdiness. “You can’t have horseplay in a room with iPads. It helps reinforce that orderly sense.” Since different classes share iPads, each class with its own folder, students must have the self-control to stay away from others’ folders. The class learns that hard work brings tangible rewards: when students finish their reading, they get to use the iPads to make an iMovie trailer. “That’s why they’re so excited about reading.”
The end result of Room 8’s iPad use? Maybe standardized test scores will “shoot through the roof,” Arvola predicts. But even if they don’t, Arvola’s students are using their iPads to become better readers, writers, organizers, and thinkers. They’re becoming adept at technology they’ll use for many years. And, as they told Success Foundation visitors, language arts is their favorite class.