- Associated Press - Saturday, December 27, 2014

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - Mabscott Elementary School students are putting down their pencils and papers and picking up their iPads as the second year of the iRaleigh Initiative takes shape in district classrooms.

Through Showbie - an iPad app that fifth-grade math teacher Emily Greene pioneered at Mabscott - students are completing assignments exclusively with the iPad and getting immediate help with homework from their classroom teachers.

“Showbie’s a workflow app that some of our schools are implementing,” said Raleigh County Schools spokesman Dave Traube. “Its intention is to provide students with access to assignments when they are unable to be at school, like a snow day, for example.”

But, as Traube noted, Showbie provides more than just an outlet for students who are away from school. They’re also able to send audio (voice) and text (writing) files to their teachers’ electronic devices from their classroom seats.

The possibilities are revolutionizing Raleigh classrooms, including Greene’s fifth-grade math classes.

“It has absolutely changed the dynamic in my classroom,” said Greene.

“The app allows students to completely do all of their work on the iPad,” she explained. “We don’t need paper, pencils and a textbook to teach students anymore.”

Greene sends assignments and tests electronically to students’ individual iPads, including uploaded assignments from the pre-iPad days, she added.

Students use the iPads to complete the assignment.

“Instead of using paper and pencil, the Showbie app allows them to use a stylus or their finger,” said Greene. “They can draw everything visually onto the iPad.”

She’s noticed a strong improvement in students’ classroom engagement since she started using Showbie.

“The kids love it,” she said. “They enjoy learning, and their engagement has skyrocketed. They enjoy doing their math on the app. They like using their iPad, and they like switching between the different apps.

“I don’t have as many students goofing off or daydreaming,” she said.

Showbie also allows Greene to view a student’s progress from her own device.

“If they’re doing what they’re expected to do, I’m going to be able to see that,” she said.

Completed assignments submit instantly instead of being passed to her desk, graded and then handed back once the class has moved to another assignment.

“It shows me the date and time they do anything,” she explained. “As soon as they click ‘done,’ it shows up on my iPad, so I can give them feedback immediately, which is nice.”

Studies have shown that instant feedback increases students’ performance and gives teachers opportunities to allow students to progress at their own rate, after they have mastered a topic, according to data from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Greene added that Showbie allows parents to get up-to-date information on their children’s work.

“They’re getting to see the exact work their child’s doing, instead of getting lost in the shuffle of papers,” she said. “It’s there for them, always.”

The app increases instructional time, too, according to Greene.

Kids who have a question about a homework assignment send voice files to Greene from home. She answers immediately, she said, which clears the way for the next assignment during classroom hours.

By allowing teachers to remotely engage students, Showbie offsets any potential gap in the learning process caused by a teacher’s absence.

“Earlier this year, I had to be out for several weeks due to a loss in the family,” said Greene. “It allowed me to communicate with my students while I was out of state.”

She sent videos instructing students and graded papers so parents could stay up-to-date. She also received recorded messages from her students.

“The substitute teacher just had to serve as a facilitator,” she said. “I could still teach without having to be in the state.”

Mabscott Elementary principal Beverly Weis said the app is a great tool to use for snow days in West Virginia.

“For our snow packets, (Greene) and several of my other teachers have worked on making their snow packets for when the snow does come,” Weis said. “When students are working at home, they can ask a question.

“It will help bridge that gap when the snow does come. The kids can still work, and it’s bridging the gap for the loss of instruction and knowledge.”

Weis said Greene has trained several other Mabscott Elementary teachers on the Showbie app.

Greene acknowledged that new technology can create an expectation that a teacher “is on call” during her free time. She said it’s up to each teacher to set limits and goals while using the app.

“Each teacher will make of it what they want,” she said. “It will be on a teacher-by-teacher basis.”

West Virginia Department of Education President Gayle Manchin, former Gov. Bob Wise and other education specialists have discussed the possibility of a state shift from a “time-based” classroom into a “competency-based” system of learning that relies on electronic delivery of education.

In September, International Association of Online K-12 Learning President Susan Patrick reported to Manchin, Wise and others that a competency-based system uses technology to allow flexible pacing of assignments and to provide an “instant feedback loop” that allows teachers to immediately assess the work of each student.

Currently, only New Hampshire has a statewide competency-based system.

Greene says that the iRaleigh Initiative, which placed iPads in the hands of individual students, is transforming district classrooms.

“The iRaleigh Initiative has allowed us to branch out and think nontraditionally, which is changing education,” she said. “(It’s) not just in Raleigh County but happening nationwide. It’s coming.”


Information from: The Register-Herald, https://www.register-herald.com

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