As Quogue School students settled into their classrooms on Monday morning preparing for the new school year, they did so not just with pencils, looseleaf paper and textbooks, but also with their own personal iPads.
Every fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grader at the elementary school has his or her own district-owned tablet to use on school grounds, for everything from researching faraway countries to composing their own music, according to Colleen McGreevy, a teacher and computer coordinator at Quogue School.
“These current students are of the digital age, the digital generation,” Ms. McGreevy said. “For them to type or write on the iPad is just a natural extension of their fingertips. They seem to think better, they seem to be more relaxed using the keyboard on the iPad than a pen or pencil.”
The small school district has been gradually introducing iPads over the past three years, purchasing its most recent set of 20 this summer with $17,000 from its capital fund, according to Quogue School Superintendent Richard Benson. The cost covered the expense of the iPads, the movable charging stations they are stored in and protective cases for each. The school’s other iPads were purchased through various grants awarded to the district, Mr. Benson said.
The school now has three class-specific carts of iPads for the fourth through sixth grade classes, Ms. McGreevy said, along with a cart that moves between the lower grades and personal iPads for certain employees, including the music teacher, librarian and all special education teachers.
In total, the school of 120 or so students boasts about 90 iPads, Ms. McGreevy said. All the grades, including prekindergarten, use the devices at least once a week, though many of the older students use them every day.
Along with the instant-on capabilities that save time in the classroom, Ms. McGreevy said the many free or low-cost educational applications available on the tablets save the district money, cash that would otherwise be spent on costly computer software. The applications also allow students to research topics without having to connect with the internet, she added. That feature, Ms. McGreevy explained, comes in handy when students take field trips to historic venues and museums, including those in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
“With the apps they’re more focused, they’re on task,” Ms. McGreevy said. “They don’t have all the distractions that are on the internet.”
Dawn Hine, the Quogue School librarian, said there was a bit of learning curve with the new technology when the school first shifted away from laptops to the tablets three years ago. “You have to be willing to find the time during the day to teach yourself, or take the iPad home and do it there,” she said.
Ms. Hine said the iPads have become something many students look forward to using, adding that most times they prefer to play educational games as opposed to other games when given free time with the devices.
Still, the new technology isn’t just about fun and games. For special education teachers Stacey Russell and Kristina Levy, the iPads have become a critical tool for assisting non-traditional learners.
“It’s more hands-on learning,” said Ms. Levy, who runs the resource room for third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Quogue School. “A lot of my kids are more visual and kinesthetic learners, and these apps are tailor-made for them.”
Ms. Russell assists the younger grades and has incorporated iPads into her teaching methods only within the last year while Ms. Levy has done the same thing for the past three. Still, Ms. Russell said the technology has already had an impact on students both inside and outside the classroom.
One of her students in particular struggles with his fine motor skills and finds it difficult to manipulate a pen or pencil. She said an iPad was useful in teaching him to type, both alleviating the burden of writing in class and giving him the ability to use a computer on his own, something that she said was once impossible without his mother’s assistance.
“The iPad has been a great tool for him,” Ms. Russell said. “It helps him so he’s not burdened with writing.”
Although the district has no contractual obligations, it has used primarily Apple products since the mid-1990s, Mr. Benson said. The school receives no additional break beyond the educational discount Apple provides to all school districts. But Ms. McGreevy said having everything in the Apple platform makes it easier to transfer work, for example, from a student’s iPad to one of the school’s 21 iMacs in the computer lab.
Quogue School students are able to continue their use of Apple products when they move on to Westhampton Beach Middle School, which now uses Macs exclusively as well, according to Assistant Superintendent Bill Fisher.
“We try to work some consistency with the sender [schools], so there’s some continuity,” Mr. Fisher said. “For example, Remsenburg-Speonk [Elementary School] uses all Mac products now as well.”
The Westhampton Beach School District currently has about 75 iPads between its three schools, most of which are used by elementary school students, Mr. Fisher said. “We just see that there may be a good potential return on utilizing that kind of touch technology in those lower grade levels,” he said.
Ms. McGreevy, meanwhile, is optimistic that the iPad’s many storytelling applications will improve students’ reading comprehension and writing skills, both of which are priorities under the state’s new Core Curriculum standards.
“Writing seems to flow a bit easier for them because they don’t fear making a mistake because they can just go back and delete,” she said. “They are less apprehensive.”