Picture a futuristic classroom where students find a word’s definition just by touching it.
A few swipes of the finger and a book report, complete with illustrations, is finished. Homework is simply slid into a digital drop box instead of placed in a basket on the teacher’s desk.
This imaginary classroom setting has become a reality for most North Fork schools now that many districts have launched iPad programs.
The iPad is a trademark for Apple Inc.’s brand of tablet — a touch-screen computer where users can download applications informally known as “apps.” School officials said the new technology engages students because it provides them with software to work collaboratively with others.
Turning homework into games is also a plus.
Brittany Knote, a fifth-grade teacher at the Oyster-ponds elementary school in Orient, said the iPads not only help students with subjects they are struggling in, but also provides instant gratification to feed their inquisitive minds.
“It’s a great tool where students can learn independently at their own pace,” Ms. Knote said.
The school provides iPads to each student in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The district allows those students to take the iPads home and also provides opportunities for parents to learn how to use the devices. Ten additional iPads have been purchased for other students to use inside the school.
Ms. Knote said students have been having fun using iPads to complete their assignments.
One project at Oysterponds involves turning a book report on Paul Bunyan into a slideshow. For example, one slide deals with the story’s character — students draw a picture of Paul Bunyan and write adjectives like “tall,” “brave,” and “strong” to describe him. Next, students add a picture of a forest in Maine into the slideshow to describe the story’s setting. In subsequent slides, students tackle the problems that arise in the story and analyze solutions.
In social studies, students are learning about state capitals on their iPads with multiple choice quizzes. They are also using digital maps to learn about latitude and longitude. There’s even a fl ashcard program that keeps track of each student’s progress. And each week students input new vocabulary words into a spelling app that generates games and crossword puzzles to help them study.
Ms. Knote said the devices include homework apps that help students with time management. After students log in their assignments, the due dates are synced to a digital calendar. As the due date nears, students receive reminders about how much time they have left to complete them, she said.
Gerri Doherty, technology director at Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, said she likes how the iPads can be tailored to meet students’ individual needs.
Ms. Doherty said she and special education director Tricia Desiderio developed the district’s iPad pilot program with a special education grant. Using the district’s voucher system, through Apple teachers can download apps to the classroom-only devices. Another useful feature on the iPad, Ms. Doherty said, is its text-to-speech option, an audio tool that also reads newspapers and other texts to students.
“This is a great and unique program,” Ms. Doherty said. “Technology is always changing and this meets the needs of students and teachers inside the classroom.”
Greenport and Southold school districts were able to secure grant funding from state Senator Ken LaValle for their iPad programs after developing a shared service agreement.
“I think that any opportunities that we can share services and ideas with Southold — the more that Southold and Greenport work together on this — the better it’s going to be for all of our students,” Greenport school superintendent Michael Comanda said.
In October, Greenport rolled out over 100 iPads, which students can take home.
“We want our students to share them with Mom and Dad,” Mr. Comanda said.
In additions to iPads, some Green-port students received laptops this year through the Comp4Kids grant program, developed by a not-for-profit corporation based in Port Washing-ton. The New Suffolk School District, of which Mr. Comanda is also the superintendent , received laptops this year from the same grant.
In Southold, superintendent Da-vid Gamberg said the district collaborated with Greenport to create a “Bring Your Own Device” program so students can use their own devices inside the classroom instead of borrowing one from school.
Southold has drafted a device user agreement that both parents and secondary students are required to sign. Mr. Gamberg said the agreement was developed in an effort to teach students about how to use electronic devices responsibly, as well as deter cyberbullying.
Since Southold’s iPad program launched this year, Mr. Gamberg said teachers, students and parents have embraced the new technology, which he describes as “secondary to engagement.”
“It’s not designed to replace, it’s designed to supplement,” Mr. Gamberg said. “Engaging kids is still the role of the teacher and the device just supplements that.”
Mr. Gamberg said in the midst of the Internet revolution, teachers need the technology to teach students how to find reliable information online now more than ever.
“Parents know their child is entering a world where they have to know how to use these devices responsibly,” Mr. Gamberg said. “There’s still concern, but the overwhelming sense is gratefulness to the school for staying with the times.”