The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

May 6, 2014

Shady Spring science teacher touts uses for iPads in his classroom

Shady Spring High School teacher Stephan Cantley embarked on his teaching career in August 2013, less than a month before his students were assigned an iPad by the Raleigh  County school district.

Thanks to the iPad, he said, his students have the natural world at their fingertips in a way that wasn’t offered in high school to their 20-something teachers.

“The iPad is really good for science classes, especially,” Cantley said. “In a science classroom, you can get these apps on the websites and these demonstrations of actual phenomena in the real world that usually you can’t observe.

“Students couldn’t normally look at a picture of an animal cell and manipulate it in 3-D and zoom in on it, but with these apps, we can do this.”

Cantley, a recent Concord University graduate, says teaching on the iPad is opening a new realm for teachers by allowing them to make lessons more interesting and more in-depth.

“Plant and animal cells from biology courses is a good example,” he explained. “Atoms and molecules that are obviously too small to be even seen with a regular microscope — they have models and 3-D figures on these apps, and each student has it at their desk, at their fingertips.

“It’s not even like something you’re displaying on the board.”

The iRaleigh Initiative didn’t just make an anachronism of the traditional dry erase board still on display at the front of the classroom. According to Cantley, the electronic device is a staple for the day-to-day management of his classroom.

“I use it for everyday tasks,” he said. “Taking the roll, doing grades.”

In August, Raleigh County became the first county in the state to assign iPads to students in third grade and higher on a one-to-one basis. (Students in grades K-2 share an iPad.) The 1:1 initiative is imperative, Raleigh Schools Superintendent Jim Brown said, as school districts in West Virginia and 43 more states join the Common Core State Standards, a federal initiative that aims to set a common national academic curriculum that prepares students to compete in a global economy and society.

Under Common Core guidelines, students test electronically — a key argument for the iPad initiative in the county.

When Cantley — who is described by Raleigh Schools Technology Director Mary Ann Foster as being “iPad savvy” — began teaching in August, he “fired up” an iPad the way teachers a year earlier had “cracked open” a new textbook.

“This was my first year teaching, period, so it was all I’ve ever known,” he admitted. “It’s not like I knew the ‘old way’ and tried to transition into the new way.”

Cantley said his college courses hadn’t prepared him to teach using the iPad.

“I had technology courses at Concord,” he added. “None of them did it with iPads. They were mostly how to do PowerPoints and how to use online discussions and Blackboard. I had a good technology background but nothing specific to iPads.

“It’s a learning curve,” he added, “but one I was going to face, no matter what.”

Cantley said teacher iPad training offered by iRaleigh technology “trainers” prepared him to incorporate iPad learning into his class.

“I hadn’t used it that much when I came in, especially in an educational setting,” he said. “But we had a lot of training this year that helped us get prepared.

“They didn’t completely throw us out into the woods,” he said. “They gave us a lot of opportunities for a lot of training this year at the iRaleigh center.”

While some of his colleagues have publicly criticized the training, Cantley said he felt prepared to teach using the iPad and believes teachers who don’t feel comfortable using the iPads now will be using them expertly as they become more integrated into the educational system.

“I remember seeing a PowerPoint when I was a student at Concord, and it talked about how in the 1800s, people didn’t want to use chalkboards because they liked the slate tablets better,” he recalled. “Then it went into, ‘Why do we need notebooks when we have the chalkboards?’

“Teachers are comfortable with computer labs and laptops now, but the iPad is like any new technology,” said Cantley. “It’s going to take a while to integrate it, but I think we’ve done an excellent job as a county doing that.

“It will eventually become the new norm.”

Like any teacher, Cantley had to tackle the issue of discipline in his classroom. He said the iPad presented opportunities for doing so.

“Students are obviously very technology-savvy, but a lot of them want to use it for uneducational purposes, want to play games or be on Snapchat, which I don’t think is bad,” he said. “They’re just kids, that’s what kids do, and it’s our job as the teacher (to control it), just like we control everything else.”

Kids who left iPads at home in his class got the same consequence as kids who left textbooks at home, he added.

Logistical issues like charging the iPad and setting up circuit protectors also popped up, but Cantley said they were part of the learning curve of moving into a 21st century classroom.

For fellow teachers who aren’t yet comfortable with the iPad, Cantley suggested they start by trying one lesson a week or every other week on the iPad.

“Let the students do the work for you if you don’t know how Keynote and Pages work,” he advised. “Talk to your other teachers, figure out lesson plans you can do, and throw it out to the kids.

“They’ll be OK,” he said. “They probably already know most of the app, and you, as the teacher, can focus on the content.”

He added that experienced teachers “already know what works” and that he believes they’ll be able to adapt.

Cantley emphasized that he disagrees with media reports that the iRaleigh training failed to prepare teachers to use iPads.

“We have people at the county level who this was pretty much their full-time job, to incorporate these iPads,” he said. “I feel they’ve done an excellent job.”

— E-mail: jfarrishregister-herald.com

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