HURRICANE, W.Va. -- When Sue Pate's third-grade class received their pen-pal replies from fellow students at a Florida elementary school this year, she knew a standard reply wasn't going to cut it.
Fortunately for Pate, a teacher at West Teays Elementary School in Hurricane, she had the tools to allow her students to step up their game -- a school-provided iPad the kids used to film and take still photographs to make a "thank you" video to email to their far-away friends.
"I've done pen pals for years, but something was different about this," Pate said. "Because it was a video, it was easily emailed. [The application] gives them the individuality to choose whatever backgrounds and music they want, and they make it -- with my supervision, of course."
West Teays is one of several schools across West Virginia to participate in iPad Basic Training, a service provided through the West Virginia Center for Professional Development's Infusing Technology campaign. The center, an agency geared toward advancing the quality of teaching in West Virginia schools, began training teachers to use iPads three years ago so that digital "immigrants" -- educators -- could effectively teach their students, the digital "natives," according to Michelle Tharp, WVCPD's coordinator of technology integration.
"It gives them a great tool for creativity; they can put this technology in a child's hand that will allow them to create these wonderful projects through collaboration, communication and creativity," Tharp said. "One of the things I always stress is that the highest level of learning is teaching, so when you have a device that a child has used to learn a concept and they can go to another student and share that peer-to-peer learning -- that's an amazing tool."
The WVCPD launched its training in four schools: Big Otter Elementary School in Clay County, Shepherdstown Elementary in Jefferson County, Weir Middle in Hancock County; and Tucker County High School. The center acquired a grant to distribute 30 iPads between the four schools, and provided training and support over two years.
"It's so hard to design a program that is K-12, because what a kindergarten teacher needs is not what a 12th-grade teacher needs," Tharp said. "I think a big part of our success at the center is that we offers sessions that are relevant to teachers, but they get to choose what they learn about; it's not a demand."
More than 160 educators attended training sessions with the WVCPD this summer. While the center cannot provide devices or funding to all the schools it trains, Tharp said the intensive program allows teachers who are unfamiliar with iPads or similar technology to become comfortable using the device in the classroom and in ways they hadn't considered before.
"You have to give a teacher confidence to be able to say, 'OK, my 6-year-old is going to show me something new,'" she said. "I'm the director of technology, and I'm not a digital native."
West Teays has 40 iPads of its own, something Valerie Fowler, the school's principal, attributes to high levels of parent involvement at the school, as well as extra money earned through its after-school program. Each classroom also has an Apple TV, and nearly every teacher in the school has attended more than one day of the training at their own cost.