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Teaching with tablets

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Galax Middle School students download knowledge using iPads

By SHAINA STOCKTON
Staff

You might think devices like the iPad would be a distraction in class, but students at Galax Middle School are using the tablets as part of the curriculum.
Teachers have been creatively implementing technology into their lesson plans to make learning more effective and enjoyable for the students who are more accustomed to the digital world than the printed page.
On Jan. 8, four GMS students — Tenneh Bonsu, Mimi Pemberton, Daniel Huff and Ethan Lyons — presented the Galax School Board some of the class work they’ve been doing with their iPads.
The board members were invited to join in, as well. Before they began their presentations, the students passed out iPads to each member so they could follow along.

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GMS Principal Kristie Legg gave a brief overview using a Powerpoint presentation to show the board what the iPads offer. There were a variety of different methods described, including Internet searches, various student-centered applications and programs like iMovie used to construct class presentations.
One by one, each student stepped in front of the board and held out their tablets, guiding the board members visually as Legg spoke.
“For language arts, we use the Tools for Students app, which uses diagrams to compare and contrast, and help us find similarities,” Pemberton said as her hand glided across the tablet screen cradled in the crook of her other arm. “We have also used Safari to look up websites. We’ve learned to evaluate URLs, analyze them and follow links to see if they work.”
Lyons showed the board how students had researched college campuses using the tablets. “This is Radford University’s website here,” he said, flashing the tablet at the board. “We found images of campuses, followed virtual tours, stuff like that.
Lyons also said that the class evaluated job availability in nearby areas. “We searched the careers we were interested in, and it would tell us about what education we need, and the income range.”
For history, Bonsu summarized the activities done in her class. “We can look at current events, learn vocabulary with history games and research facts about U.S. presidents,” she said, tapping at the screen as she spoke.
Not only are there a list of apps available for every subject, but the iPads also have proven to be more convenient for the students. “Before iPads, we had to take notes on paper, and everybody hated that,” said Huff, which earned some laughter from the board.
School Board Chairman Ray Kohl asked if any of the students would want to go back to pencil and paper after using their iPads.
The students all shook their heads, indicating “no.”
To finalize their presentation, Pemberton invited the board on a virtual tour of Bora Bora, the setting for a story that was told in class. Using Google Earth, everyone got a detailed satellite view of the island.
As they loaded their maps, School Board Member Donna Garland asked, “Have all of you looked up your own houses with this program yet?”
The students all nodded.
“Google Earth has been a lot of fun for them,” said Legg. “They have been using their iPads in many ways, and it has really helped them to learn.”
As an added bonus, the students have been allowed on two occasions to take their iPads home. “So far, they have been very responsible, and all of them have come back,” said Legg.

In other action, the board:
• learned that a lockdown drill was scheduled for Jan. 15. All three schools were expected to participate in this drill. An administrative meeting was to immediately follow, where a review of public school safety procedures will be conducted.
• announced new equipment for the high school, including 25 laptop computers for the business class, and seven laptops with protective cases for the auto class.
• announced that Galax City Public Schools’ salaries are ranking high against others in the region.
Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill noted that, out of 19 districts, starting salaries in this region ranks fifth for those holding a bachelor’s degree, and third for those with a master’s degree.
As years of employment climb, Sturgill noted that salaries follow the same pattern of dipping slightly with each year.
• presented the schedule for budgeting deadlines: Feb. 8 for providing a working copy for the board, and March 18 for submitting the final budget to Galax City Council.
• discussed the impending expiration of the federal tax holiday, noting that an e-mail was sent out describing the upcoming changes to staff paychecks.
• approved the new program of studies for GHS
• noted the final steps in the building program and track/field lighting upgrades. Construction is set to begin in the first week of March, and should be complete before the fall semester begins.