The task seemed impossible for Bruner until a donor who wished to remain anonymous stepped in and asked her if she was having any luck finding funding for the project.
“And I kept saying, ‘No, it’s discouraging; there is no money out there; with the economy, there’s no money to buy these, and I just want them so badly for these kids,’” Bruner said. “After talking to me for a few times, he came back one day and said, ‘My wife and I have talked about this; we’ve prayed about it; we just want to do it.’ So he bought them.”
Bruner received 10 iPads in July — one teacher unit and nine for students. She attended one-on-one training at an Apple store — also paid for by the donor — and began finding apps for the units that would relate to her teaching.
“It’s a huge time commitment, and I’ve had to restructure and redesign every lesson plan I had from last year, because I have to look at everything differently,” she said. “And I don’t want it to become a situation where we just use the iPad as a typewriter; that’s not what I got them for; we could have gotten old-fashioned typewriters and done that.”
The iPads are equipped with several writing apps and recording apps as well as the Internet, which Bruner said opens up an enormous amount of useful teaching material. Students write assignments and e-mail them to Bruner, who promptly e-mails a response with comments. Students also have a “wait time” folder on the computers that includes educational games and activities related to their curriculum.
“I made a point not to call it ‘free time’; we never have free time,” Bruner said. “There’s no excuse now for your brain not to be engaged 100 percent of the time.”
Bruner thought students would easily be able to use the iPads in class since many use similar technology on their phones every day. But a teacher at Woodford County High School — which is giving iPads to every student this year — warned her there would be a learning curve.
“She said, ‘Be prepared; there’s a huge learning curve; these kids are used to playing with them; they’re not used to doing work with them,’” Bruner said.
But Bruner has found that students tend to stay focused better with the iPads once they learn the process.
“I’ve noticed a significant difference in how many times I have to redirect kids back to their work; they’re engaged,” Bruner said.
Bruner teaches social studies to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the alternative school. She also teaches literacy for students with symptoms of dyslexia and discovery, the school’s life-skills class. She said the use of iPads could easily be broadened across disciplines and grade levels.
“I think it would be easier in some of the other subject areas,” she said. “I think there are probably more apps for math and reading than there are for social studies. I’ve been able to find several (social-studies apps), but as I search for those, there are tons out there for other subject areas.”
Students in Bruner’s class hardly ever have to rise from their seats to retrieve any information, the teacher said; eighth-graders studying Native Americans only got out textbooks one day in the unit because of problems getting wireless Internet in the basement classroom.