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Taking Interactive Learning to a New Level

February 21, 2011

WEIRTON - Teachers at two Hancock County elementary schools are continuing to discover the possibilities that are literally at their students' fingertips.

Every fourth grader at Weirton Heights Elementary School in Weirton and Allen T. Allison Elementary School in Chester - about 160 students in all - now has his or her very own iPad to use during the school day. This unusual opportunity was made possible with $100,000 in federal funding.

And with this step, it's not hard to imagine a future in which schools go paperless with some or even all textbooks.

Article Photos

Photo by Ian Hicks
Clockwise from front, Savannah Ward, Brandon Rawson and Gabby Tournay, students in Roberta O’Brien’s fourth-grade class at Weirton Heights Elementary School, are among about 160 students in Hancock County using iPads in their daily schoolwork.

Linda Robinson, principal at Allen T. Allison Elementary, said teachers at her school as well as Weirton Heights spent about two days earlier this month doing in-depth training with representatives of Apple, which introduced the iPad - a tablet computer lighter than traditional laptops - in April 2010. She said in addition to learning about the device's features, the sessions allowed teachers at both schools to share ideas on how to apply those features to their daily activities.

Weirton Heights Principal Frank Carey said each students is assigned an e-mail address, and the teacher can communicate with the student, allowing more opportunity for individualized instruction. Assignments can be sent to students and submitted electronically.

According to Carey, teachers also can use the iPad to post questions, which will appear on each student's device as well as the SMARTBoard in the classroom. The student then answers via the iPad touch screen - and the teacher can instantly see how many students got it right and how many didn't.

Fact Box

How are our local school districts utilizing the latest technology?

While nearly all schools have computer labs, some fourth-grade students in Hancock County are now using iPads in the classroom. Outside the classroom, Ohio County is utilizing new technology to save time and money in its cafeteria, and also new technology to ensure the safety of its students. Edline is another tool being used to help parents be more involved in their child's education.

With the pilot program still in its infancy, the schools largely are using the iPads to enhance more traditional education methods. But Carey believes it won't be long before textbook companies make entire volumes available for download.

As e-books gain popularity with the advent of devices like the Kindle and Nook, he said it may one day be economical for school districts to go that route. For example, Carey pointed out electronic textbooks could be updated on a yearly basis, while traditional books generally are replaced every five to six years.

The initial investment is quite costly, though - a single iPad, depending on memory capacity and online capability, sells for anywhere from $499 to $839.

Robinson said the children are excited about the change of pace, pointing out that today's elementary students were born into the digital age and can't fathom a world where cell phones, razor-thin laptop computers and high-speed Internet connections don't exist.

While the iPads do not leave the school buildings, Carey and Robinson said they are numbered and all students are responsible for a single device, including keeping it clean and ensuring it is put away to be charged at the end of each school day.

Technology across the region is just not being used to enhance learning, though. In Ohio County, a recently implemented computer program called "School Check In" has allowed security at Wheeling Park High School to receive a boost.

School Check In was initially developed to help schools answer the challenge of tracking volunteer hours; however, the program was extended to track tardy students, early dismissals and visitors.

The computerized check-in station added to WPHS at the beginning of the school year allows the school's prevention resource officer to check the identification of visitors to ensure they are not listed on national sexual offender registries.

"What we do is we run the driver's license of the persons coming to visit the school, and it runs the license against the national sexual predators database," said WPHS Prevention Resource Officer Sgt. James Braden.

"It lets us know if there is a possibility that someone is a problem," he said.

Once the identification card is scanned into the computer, it prints out a paper identification sticker badge that a visiting guest wears during their visit to the school. The badge displays the visitor's name, their picture, where they are going and what time of day they entered the building.

Braden said the visitor will stay logged into the computer until they check out of the building.

Braden said officials also have all of the students logged into the computer through their student identifications; however, he said students' pictures are not shown on their identification cards.

The computer program, which cost Ohio County taxpayers about $1,500, has many additional functions that school officials are still exploring.

"We can do a lot of different things. ... We just have to grow into the system," Braden said.

Another new technology at Wheeling Park soon will use students' fingerprints to improve the efficiency of the cafeteria.

Ohio County Board of Education members in January approved the implementation of the identiMetrics pilot program at Wheeling Park High School.

Ohio County Schools Child Nutrition Coordinator Renee Griffin said the program uses a finger scanning system in order to access a student's lunch account.

The system creates a template of each student's fingerprint characteristics and assigns a numerical identification.

This information is stored in the school's database with the same high level of security as all students' records, she said. Deputy Superintendent Dianna Vargo added that records of students' fingerprints are destroyed after their graduation.

In the cafeteria, students access lunch accounts by simply swiping their finger. The entire process takes less than one second to complete.

With the ability to identify each student, the system will eliminate instances of students using a lunch account other than their own and increase efficiency in the cafeteria.

"This is a technology that can save our county schools time, energy and money," Griffin said.

Also, parents in Ohio County this year have access to "Edline," an online program that allows parents to track their child's grades in individual subjects - and on individual assignments - throughout each grading period. School officials believe this will allow more for more parental involvement in the learning process.

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