iPads flipping FHS upside down

Tablets have taken over the science department

Earth science teacher Julian Buss answers Farmington High School students’ questions during a lab on greenhouse gases. The iPads collect data from the sensors. Photo by Andy Rogers

Earth science teacher Julian Buss answers Farmington High School students’ questions during a lab on greenhouse gases. The iPads collect data from the sensors. Photo by Andy Rogers

Eyebrows went up in the community when it was announced that every student in Farmington would receive an iPad, something most people would consider a generous Christmas present.

With more technology at their fingertips, the hope is Farmington students use them to do homework, create presentations, listen to German pronunciation, take notes, organize their workload, play piano, and watch lectures.

In some ways it’s already turned the classroom upside down.

Chemistry teachers Lewis Miskowicz and Mark Froehling have flipped their classrooms thanks to the new one-to-one iPad initiative in Farmington.

Lectures are replaced by podcasts that students watch on their own while taking notes. Class time is used for what used to be homework.

“The philosophy is if they’re at home, they have a question, there’s usually no one there to help them,” Miskowicz said. “During the classroom time they can interact with kids. Gives them more time for small group discussion. It’s different, but we like it. Some kids don’t, but we’re not going to please everybody.”

It allows students to customize their workload and go at their own pace with objectives and deadlines every week.

“Some work ahead,” Miskowicz said. “Our minimum pace right now is topic three, but I have one kid on topic four. Some kids are a little behind, but we say ‘Hey, we need you to understand it. If it takes an extra day, that’s fine.’ ”

Miskowicz has been doing this for several years, but with the iPads it’s “way easier,” he said.

“They can watch the podcasts anywhere,” Miskowicz said. “All of the work is done online. They download worksheets, take notes. The lab instructions are online. We can check their work online.”

Miskowicz doesn’t accept failures on the tests. Students can retake a reformatted test if necessary. Once they get the grade they want, they can move on.

“We’re more interested in the results and showing they can learn,” Miskowicz said. “That’s life. It’s a series of deadlines. You have to produce.”

Earth science teacher Julian Buss was also an early adopter, receiving a set of iPads in the first trimester. He developed a new subject at the high school and integrated the technology with the curriculum.

The district received a grant through agriculture company Monsanto to purchase Vernier equipment to run all sorts of Earth science-related experiments using equipment such as magnetic field sensors and pH sensors.

The iPad wirelessly displays the data and students can use the screenshots in their schoolwork.

Buss runs his classroom through the application Schoology, where students can access lab directions, online quizzes, discussions and reading assignments.

Students at Farmington High School use iPads to help conduct science experiments. Photo by Andy Rogers

Students at Farmington High School use iPads to help conduct science experiments. Photo by Andy Rogers

“There’s no handing out of worksheets anymore,” Buss said. “I have a presentation today with a slide show and kids can go along with it. At the end they took a pop quiz.”

Next year Buss envisions a hybrid online course, which is “more of what you see in college,” he said.

“They’re going to meet with me for a few days with labs,” Buss said. “A lot of the in-class stuff will be online. Instead of a lecture in the class it might be a screencast and book online.”

There’s a challenge with writing papers on the iPads. A traditional computer works better for that, and like any new technology there was plenty of troubleshooting and distractions for all involved.

“My enthusiasm might have helped,” Buss said. “At the end of the day it all works and there will always be distractions for the kids. It’s just another form.”

Farmington may be the largest school in Minnesota to have a one-to-one iPad initiative, but the district had plenty of case studies to research.

Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, a district in south central Minnesota, was one of the first in the country to outfit its students with iPads three years ago. In the first year, some were lost, others were broken. Certain websites had to be blocked.

A GFW student survey in 2010 showed that most preferred to use the iPad over books and believed it improved study habits, grades and organizational skills. A wide majority used them for homework.

Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, which is similar in size to Farmington, found it saved on paper and textbooks and improved math and reading proficiency by 10-13 percent, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Buss and Miskowicz said they don’t hand out paper for anything anymore. Buss uses a free open source textbook for the class, as well.

  • Cliff Volkmann

    Great article! Too bad I was born 60 years too soon.

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