At One LA Unified School, the iPads are ‘Rocking and Rolling’
Brenda Iasevoli | November 8, 2013
All 338 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Cimarron Avenue Elementary in Hawthorne have iPads at their fingertips.
The rollout has gone smoothly at the school, one of the first in LA Unified to receive the tablets when distribution began in August.
“We’re rocking and rolling here,” said Cimarron’s principal, Cynthia Williams.
Critics have called the first phase of the district’s iPad program a disaster. In September, 300 high school students skirted security on the tablets to surf social network sites. There was confusion over whether students were allowed to take the devices home and who was responsible if they were lost or stolen, among other problems.
Here at Cimarron, those problems were non-events.
On a recent morning, fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Zabatta led her students in a lesson on fractions, using the Nearpod application on the iPads. The screens displayed two squares, one blue and the other green. The instructions asked students to divide the blue square into two equal parts, the green square into four equal parts, and circle the figure with the larger parts.
Students drew lines on the squares to divide them, using their fingers. Their completed work appeared on the teachers’ device next to their names.
“I can easily monitor who is finished and who understands the concept,” Zabatta said.
Samuel Chanaiwa’s fourth graders used the iPads to type summaries of a story they read in their Treasures anthology called “My Brother Martin.” Chanaiwa’s goal is to upload students’ responses to Google docs, so the class can respond to each other’s work in real time.
In Fernando Palacio’s fifth grade class, students tackled math problems on the iPads at their own pace using a program that boasts alignment to the new Common Core State Standards called ST Math.
Some students worked on rounding decimals, while others calculated the area of rectangles, squares and triangles. To round the decimals, students could choose among four possible answers. They tapped a number, and it appeared in its place on a number line. Connecting fractions and decimals to number lines is part of the Common Core standards.
“I have to juggle a lot with the kids all working on different math concepts,” said Palacio, who walked around the classroom monitoring students’ progress and answering questions when they became stumped. “But it’s a beautiful thing because they are all working at their own level and advancing really quickly.”
Cimarron became one of the LA Unified schools to receive new technology and other resources after a federal civil rights investigation found the district did not afford African American and English learners adequate academic opportunities and resources.
Teachers at Cimarron say it’s a civil rights imperative to provide access to technology in a school where 89 percent of the students are black and 73 percent qualify for free lunch. What’s more, Cimarron was in need of updated technology as the school’s refurbished computers were breaking down.
“This is an important equity issue for our students to have this access,” said Chanaiwa. “For some of my students, the iPad is a great motivator. Other students could not have done some of this work without the supports this technology provides.”
Principal Williams brushed aside the idea that the district had botched the rollout. “We always knew this was a work in progress,” she said.
She did, however, acknowledge that there are “technical difficulties” with the Pearson software. Pearson created the math and language arts curriculum for grades pre-K through 12 that comes preloaded on the district-issued tablets.
As for the problems, Pearson staff come to the school to assist teachers and demonstrate lessons. Williams says she is not impatient for a glitch-free Pearson curriculum.
“There are so many wonderful applications that our teachers can access and use with their students,” she said. “The culture of our school is changing. Teachers bring their iPads to staff meetings. They are sharing lessons with each other. But the most important thing to remember is this is a life-changing experience for our children to have access to this technology.”