Imagine a future where students slip slender 1.33-pound tablets into their backpacks in the place of hefty textbooks and assignment planners. It’s a blissful image—and at Berkeley Carroll it’s almost here. In Fall 2012, BC is beginning a pilot program in which every 3rd, 5th, and 9th grader will receive an individual iPad for academic use. As Upper School Director Suzanne Fogarty explains, “Technology is now an inherent part of our daily lives and an inherent part of our classrooms, not an add-on or separated skill set taught in a computer class.”
While that core belief anchors the entire program (which was mentioned on WNYC this August), the iPads will be used differently in each division. Third graders will share ideas on Google Docs and collaboratively produce e-books, movies, and websites. Both fifth and ninth graders will study new e-textbooks and textbook supplements written by BC teachers that offer centralized access to the readings, activities, videos, and links assigned in a given course.
Best of all, since the textbooks are digital, teachers can continually hone them to allow for current events and classroom tangents. MS World Languages chair Megan Gavin’s Spanish textbook incorporates of-the-minute cultural references (Venus y Serena Williams, por ejemplo), and US Math teacher Alister Kwok recorded audio commentary to wittily walk students through geometry proofs. “The technology allows you to take something that could be flat and dull and boring and make it come alive,” Alister says.
iPad usage will also conserve paper: students will be able to download course materials instead of receiving print packets, and some worksheets will be completed and graded entirely online. Safety and responsibility are of chief concern—all third-grade internet research will be supervised, fifth graders are permitted to use BC-only e-mail after passing a test about e-mailing ethics and etiquette, and ninth graders will meet every cycle to discuss the delights and dangers of the digital age.
“When you look at the comments sections of some websites, it makes you lose faith in humanity,” says Technology Associate Zach Blakley. “Kids will be dealing with the concept of what it means to become a digital citizen. It’s about what they want the internet to be, and what they want the world to be.”