ARDSLEY — The group of seventh-graders is hunched around a MacBook in English teacher Cameron Brindise’s classroom, calling out rapid-fire directions to the boy wielding the keyboard with the intensity of any tech startup entrepreneur.
Using the video-editing software program iMovie, the Ardsley Middle School students are piecing together a documentary called “Growing Up Digital,” which they will present to their “corporate bosses” at the Pearson Education company in a couple of weeks.
Amid the racket of their classmates, another group discusses how they’ll document their use of technology throughout the day to show adults how the iPad, iPhone and other gadgets are valuable beyond mindless entertainment.
“I think it’s important for our parents to know that we don’t just use it to, like, watch videos,” says 12-year-old Gianna Strazza.
Nearby, a student’s pink, sparkly sheathed iPhone lies among a half-dozen iPads in protective cases scattered on desks. A projector displays the day’s directive: “Remember the big question: What is it like to live in your digital world?”
These 12- and 13-year-olds — one could call them part of the post-millennial generation — are neck deep in a project that could directly influence the way they and their younger brothers and sisters learn in the future.
Ardsley is one of five districts in the country that have signed on and pay a per-student fee to participate in a one-year iPad pilot program with Pearson Education Inc. Through the winter and spring, nine teachers at the high school, middle school and elementary level have been using iPads loaded with Pearson’s new app, the Common Core System of Courses.
Math and English lessons in the app have text, video and other interactive features that are aligned with the new Common Core education standards being implemented in New York and around the country.
The district bought about 90 of its own iPads and uses others on loan from Pearson.
The idea is to have the schools provide feedback to Pearson before the company makes the final version of the app available to the public. As the pilot year is nearing its end, educators say it’s been, for the most part, a valuable experience.
“What’s it done for the teachers who’ve been part of it, it’s shown how easy it is to push their curriculum outside the four walls of their classroom,” said Layne Hudes, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.
Teachers modified the lesson plans to accommodate their students’ needs and have written their own iPad lessons along the way. They’ve also found new educational apps they can integrate into their teaching.
“I like the idea of grabbing onto what I can connect with and what I think my kids can connect with,” Brindise said.
Her students have loved using a tool with which they’re already familiar, she said.
And she’s approvingly watched them reflect on their use of technology — they’ve pointed out the drawbacks of immersing themselves in a text messaging and social media bubble pretty much all of the time.
One student said they sent hundreds of text messages in one evening; another spent three solid hours watching YouTube.
“I probably send out about 100 Snapchats a day,” Sofia Pernicone, 12, admitted sheepishly, as she cut construction paper into shapes to create a giant iPhone.
Pernicone and her group will measure students’ social media use in their favorite apps — like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter — and display their findings on the iPhone replica in the “museum exhibit” Brindise has organized as the capstone of the iPad unit.
But there have been roadblocks along the way and it’s clear that the Pearson product is still “rough around the edges,” Hudes said.
Many students had problems logging in. When they typed into the app’s notebook function, they couldn’t share what they wrote, so the class used Google Drive to work collaboratively instead.
Would she do the iPad pilot all over again? Brindise is unsure.
“The concepts are beneficial but I’d revise the content,” she said.
Ardsley will give Pearson a full report later this year and Brindise’s students plan to send the company their documentary about how the app worked for them.