Above all, Diaz stresses the importance of making sure the instructional purpose of using iPads is clear — an issue that has gotten lost amid Los Angeles’ troubles.
“It’s really about asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ ” Diaz said.
There isn’t a lot of research available yet on how iPads help students learn. But a new study offers some insight.
Himelstein’s center researched an iPad program in Encinitas, Calif., observing four upper elementary classrooms in four different schools at the beginning, middle and end of the school year to find out how teachers were using the iPad and how students were learning from.
The findings were mixed. According to the study, iPads improved students’ “research, writing and creative production,” yet didn’t improve math skills.
“In the classrooms we observed, the teachers who used the iPads well had better student outcomes,” Himelstein said. “That means students’ time on task improved, and teachers were able to provide more individualized instruction.
At Maywood, where an iPad pilot program is in its third year, first-grade teacher Lorena Cisneros said using the tablet as a teaching tool is like learning “a whole new subject. It takes planning, time and energy. In the first year, it’s a lot of trial and error. But now we’re all really comfortable using the technology.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District has heard the concerns of teachers and plans to address them, said Bernadette Lucas, head of the iPad program. In the meantime, Cisneros notices how iPads help students new to the English language open up. She listened to a recording they did as they told stories about illustrations that were uploaded to their tablets.
“These students never speak in class,” Cisneros says. “But I hear them in the recording, telling these stories and providing all these elaborate details.”