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W.Va. teachers learn to integrate iPads into their classrooms

Chip Ellis
Gabrielle Rhodes leads an "Infusing Technology" course in South Charleston on Wednesday, where teachers from across the state learned ways to make iPads a part of their lessons.
Chip Ellis The West Virginia Center for Professional Development hosted this week's technology-based courses.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rikki Lowe, a teacher at Poca High School who helped facilitate technology training for teachers across West Virginia this week, starts her sessions by showing a home video of her son on his PlayStation.

He grabs a controller, scrolls down the screen, selects his favorite YouTube video, picks up his Guitar Hero guitar and turns on the surround sound.

He's 3 years old.

"The kids that we teach today had more technology in their crib than we had in college. This isn't about making anyone feel like they're not a good teacher or that they don't have the right skills, it's about relating to this generation," Lowe said. "Technology doesn't make somebody a good teacher -- technology is a tool that's going to give you glitz and glamour and magic, and help you connect to kids on a different level."

The West Virginia Center for Professional Development hosted an "Infusing Technology" session this week in South Charleston, where more than 80 teachers showed up to learn how to integrate iPads and other devices into their everyday lessons.

Michelle Tharp, coordinator of instructional technology at the Center for Professional Development, said the main goal of the sessions is to promote creativity and innovation in classrooms by using a medium "that's native to our digital learners.

"Students don't want the worksheets anymore. This gives them an opportunity to collaborate. You're giving students power," she said. "It's truly personalized learning, and student-centered."

A few districts across the state, such as Raleigh County Schools, already are implementing a 1:1 student-device ratio in the classroom, while other counties, such as Kanawha, have expressed goals to move toward textbook-free schools in the near future.

Tharp said she sees two hurdles for West Virginia teachers when talking about the implementation of a digital-centered classroom: Fear of the unknown and a lack of resources.

"The first day of training, you see a lot of apprehension," she said. "Then, at the end, they're excited again about education. They're passionate. They've seen something that's going to change their classroom."

A grant-writing course is offered as part of the professional development, and teachers are encouraged to look to a variety of resources for funding. Some teachers have reached out to businesses for donations, others have simply asked their administrators to spend less on textbooks that become outdated and more on devices that can be updated, Tharp said.

"People think they need a 1:1 ratio -- that's your pie-in-the-sky, but can you do awesome things with one iPad in the classroom? Yep," Lowe said. "It's really about giving teachers the power within themselves. We know money is hard to come by, we hear about budget cuts all the time. So what can you do? Sometimes, it's as easy as asking."

Bill Denham, a Spanish teacher at Riverside High School, asked his principal to set aside some funding for iPads, and he now puts them in the hands of his students to teach, assess and collaborate.

"I hear a lot of older teachers, or teachers with a lot of experience, talk about how the kids don't want to learn as much -- how it's tough to teach because they don't want to learn. That's not true," he said. "We're preparing these kids for jobs that we don't even know [what they] look like yet. But we do know they're going to be heavy in technology and problem-solving skills, and we can teach that."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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