Branch Elementary School sixth grade teacher, Kim Cantrell, has been teaching for many years. While many of the educational materials she uses stay the same, the method for teaching continually changes. In keeping up with the times, Cantrell is integrating the use of iPads into her curriculum.
Cantrell recalled that Mickey Bowen, 412th Test Wing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Outreach director, had asked her at the end of the 2012-2013 school year about her classroom needs.
“He asked, ‘If you could have anything you’d like…’ and I said 10 iPads, not thinking anything would come of that,” said Cantrell.
The first shipment of 10 iPads arrived last September followed by 10 more just a couple of months later. In January, the “mother ship,” a MacBook Pro, arrived along with a charging and synching station.
The equipment was purchased using National Defense Education Program funds and loaned to the school through the Education Partnership Agreement between the 412th Test Wing and MUROC Joint Unified School District.
“The EPA allows for the partnering of the two in promoting STEM hands-on learning and future STEM career paths,” said Bowen. He added that the partnership is “monumental” for promoting STEM education and allowing resources to make their way into the hands of the students.
In the classroom, Cantrell is utilizing apps to teach Science, English, Math and anything else she can think of. Since there are more students than equipment, the class works in small groups during periods of electronic learning.
“My main goal is that first off, they know what’s out there. Believe it or not, they’re all very phone-savvy, but not so much the apps and other things that go along with it – the educational stuff.
As a whole they don’t really know what’s out there,” said Cantrell.
Some of the apps Cantrell uses are Brain Pop, News-O-Matic, Code Academy, Hop Scotch, Fooducate and Earth Viewer.
Earth Viewer has been one of the more popular learning tools for her class. Cantrell allows each study group 15 minutes for discovery on the app. During that time, each group is required to ask and answer a question to be shared with the class.
“They can see how Pangaea, which means all one land, has moved. It’s really a wonderful discovery tool that it makes it so much more real to them,” said Cantrell.
“We can see all the things that happened throughout time, fossils and cities. They can see the CO2 levels, the oxygen levels, what plants were there and what impact that had on dinosaurs.”
Fooducate, which allows students to scan the bar code of packaged foods and learn about their health value, has also inspired the class.
“They come in with packaged foods all the time and its quick and easy and I get that, but so is grabbing an apple and some peanut butter,” said Cantrell. “The learning is outside of the classroom, it encompasses them as a whole human being, because they want to know everything. And not everything comes out of a book.”
To create a sense of ownership in the students learning, the class named each iPad according to something that had been studied in class. One iPad adopted the name Homer after Homer Hickam in October Sky while another was named Pangaea after the science content.
Cantrell can use the MacBook Pro to distribute the apps to all of the iPads. The class nicknamed the Mac-Book the “mother ship” because it allows Cantrell to monitor and control the content of each iPad in use.
“I’ve been teaching a long time and through the years I’ve seen kids become pretty much a visual group.
We used to have the touchy-feely kids, the audible learners and this generation, they are visual. The stimulus has to be there. That’s their mode now of learning, I can’t turn it back,” said Cantrell.
Cantrell would like to use the iPads to prepare for the second annual Branch Elementary School Rocket Challenge. In the competition, fourth through sixth grade students build a rocket using a “Big Bertha Kit.” The iPads would be used for research, to answer questions about what makes a rocket launch and which tools should be used to build it.
The iPads are being used afterschool too, in the FIRST LEGO League. According to Cantrell, the newest LEGO robot, the EV-3 can be programmed directly from the iPad.
While the iPads are not meant to replace traditional book learning, Cantrell does believe that they are an important component to a well-rounded education and to deny the students the electronics would be a “severe disservice.”
“The resources are all in one place,” said Cantrell. “We used [study] that way because we had to do it that way, but this is the future, this is now. If they don’t know how to use it, wow, what a power curve they are behind. They deserve to be able to do this. This is their future, this is their present.”
Cantrell and Bowen have been partnering to bring more STEM materials into the classroom for three years since the start of the FIRST LEGO League.
“Mr. Bowen has been fabulous,” said Cantrell. “He has worked so hard, getting STEM materials to us and it’s just unbelievable.”
According to Bowen, it’s all about “discovery and self-development” for the students. The goal is to see them excited about education, wanting to learn and “owning their education.”