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There are all kinds of educational apps out there for your Smartphone or tablet. And the Common Core you’ve been hearing so much about these days? There are hundreds of apps for that. (A quick search for “Common Core” in the app store on my iPhone brings up more than 300.)
In Ardsley schools, teachers and students are using iPads and apps to help meet the state’s educational standards in a new way that could easily become the norm in a couple of years.
The school district is one of five in the country – and the only one in the Northeast – to participate in a pilot program that gets them first dibs at a year’s worth of K-12 math and English Language Arts instruction that was developed from scratch by Pearson and is designed to be used on the iPad.
The lessons are, of course, aligned with the Common Core. The app includes embedded assessments, teacher notes and student “notebooks” to aid implementation, said Pearson’s Sherry King, vice president in charge of the program, called Pearson Common Core System of Courses.
Like a lot of districts, Ardsley has already been using tablets in the classroom for awhile. In their case, that’s involved everything from kindergartners learning patterns on the iPad to second-graders creating an interactive field guide during a unit on birds, to high schoolers “flipping their classroom” – that is, watching a video lecture recorded by a teacher for homework and then coming to class to put the lesson into practice.
But the Pearson pilot goes deeper.
Here’s how it works: Pearson invited school districts across the country – wealthy, poor, suburban, rural, high-performing, high-needs, etc. – to participate in a five-year pilot program. The company hosted hundreds of educators at a training conference in California in the summer of 2012, and some of those educators are at the five districts now committed to rolling out the pilot and helping Pearson improve its final product. The districts pay a per-student fee to participate.
About 11 Ardsley teachers and administrators went to that training, and this fall they started using the Common Core System of Courses” on their iPads. Students have been using it for lessons in geometry, ratios and persuasive essay writing.
The district has purchased about 100 iPads for use by teachers and students and has another 20 provided by grants. Pearson provided 10 to teachers who are “first implementers” of the pilot program.
The way educators see it, putting this glitzy, exciting (not to mention, expensive) technology to work for a serious instructional purpose is integral to the goals of the standards.
“The big shift in Common Core curriculum – the whole idea behind it — is that students become more independent learners and drive their own learning, even as they’re also doing a lot more collaborative work,” said Marta Wolfson, an 11-year math teacher at Ardsley Middle School and one of the first implementers.
Wolfson’s put this into practice in her classroom: If two students are teamed up solving a math problem and they get stuck because they don’t remember how to calculate the area of a pentagon, for example, they can access the Common Core content in an iPad app – a library of digital media, instructional videos — and get the background they need to continue working and solve the larger problem.
Videos especially engage her students, Wolfson said. When studying rates and ratios, they watch a video of a boy riding an exercise bike at a gym. Recording the changes in his speed as he warms up, hits his peak and then cools down can be translated into a formula.
“It makes the math more realistic to them by actually experiencing through video rather than a word problem,” she said.
Teachers can immediately share students’ work by connecting the iPad to the Smartboard via Apple TV.
“It allows us, in math, to show demonstrations that you could never do with pencil and paper,” Wolfson said.
As more and more applications are designed for tablets and other technology, the district’s tech-savvy educators have been using them in the classrooms and bringing back positive results, Director of Curriculum Layne Hudes said.
“The work that they’re doing with the kids and the versatile nature of the iPad is what really attracted us to it,” she said. “When you think of developmentally, one device that can have meaning to children as young as 4 and 5 and as old as 17, I see that more as an iPad than as a Chromebook or a laptop or a desktop.”
Hudes said teachers have just begun to work the Pearson system into their curriculum, and the company is using their feedback to tweak it along the way. The districts in the pilot start using the fully designed app in January and it becomes available to the public in the fall of the 2014-15 school year.
Ardsley will pilot the system in three elementary classes, four middle school classes, and two high school classes. More than 175 students will be involved.
District officials emphasized the system doesn’t replace the existing curriculum but is being added in where appropriate to support what’s already there, Superintendent Lauren Allan said. The app includes a catalog of historical speeches about freedom, for example, that might be useful to an ELA class during a unit on writing persuasive essays.
Once the five-year iPad pilot is complete, the district could choose to license the curriculum from Pearson. (Ardsley already uses an elementary math curriculum developed by a company that was recently bought by Pearson, officials said.)
The end-game, in Ardsley’s case, remains to be seen.
“We have a great curriculum so we would use it to augment our curriculum in part but we wouldn’t throw out what we use and then buy their curriculum,” Allan said.
Since you can’t talk about Common Core these days without encountering a maelstrom of criticism — mostly about how New York state is rushing its implementation, but also of how Pearson is busy developing unpopular field tests that are linked to the state’s new, Common Core-aligned teacher evaluation system — I asked Allan and her colleagues where using the Pearson app fits in.
She said the district differentiates between the issues.
“The Common Core is a curriculum we support,” Allan said. “We have a problem with the speed with which the state is trying to implement it. And Pearson is a huge company and whatever the state chooses to do with Pearson and why, as far as writing those tests, I can’t control. But if they’re going to write a curriculum that can enhance instruction for us, so be it.”
In addition to Ardsley, the four districts participating in the Pearson pilot are:
Hamilton County School District, Florida
Franklin-McKinley School District, San Jose, Calif.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles, Calif.
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Los Angeles, Calif. (a network of charter schools)