By Ron Leir
With technology viewed as the bridge to the future, Lyndhurst public schools are committed to crossing that bridge right now. “It’s all about readiness and preparation for the real world. We’re on that path,” said Lyndhurst High School Principal Nicholas Coffaro.
So this year the school district took a big step on that path by ordering and distributing an iPad to every Lyndhurst High School student on the assumption that it has a practical application to learning in virtually any kind of academic setting.
And, by the time the next school year begins, in September, the district plans to have either iPads or laptops in place for every middle schooler in grades 6 through 8.
Not only will the new instrumentation fit in as a useful instructional tool, noted Schools Superintendent Tracey Marinelli, but it will also be essential for students to get acclimated to them since the state Department of Education will soon be requiring local districts to administer an online version of the new standardized test, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for Colleges & Careers), the replacement for NJASK (New Jersey Assessment of Skills & Knowledge).
Recently, The Observer was given a brief tour of randomly selected classrooms at the high school where teachers employed the iPad as a learning resource in a variety of settings.
In Emily Ringen’s Driver’s Education class, 10th graders were paired up as they consulted their iPads to review – with their teacher guiding them through – review material from a state Department of Education driver training manual on the web. Students could also use their iPads to take notes on the lesson.
A ninth-grade English class, led by co-teachers Gina DiMaggio and Tim Belmont, were using their iPads to help identify themes from books they’d read in preparation for upcoming research papers.
The teachers had set up a fake Twitter app – confined to the classroom – so that students could “post” onto the site as the character from their books, but their “postings” had to relate to the themes they were extracting from their books. In this session, in particular, the students were learning how to create a thesis or main idea for their paper.
“In this way, they’re literally living their literature,” Marinelli observed.
In Patrick Newman’s World History Honors class, ninthgraders worked in clusters with their iPads as Newman led them through a Powerpoint presentation on topographical features of different countries. The students could access digital maps and do research on the Internet as the lesson progressed.
Marinelli explained that high school teachers had begun getting acclimating to the new devices back in March 2012 when they were put through training sessions on how to apply the instrumentation to actual instructional techniques.
Ipads in the classroom function, essentially, as “interactive textbooks,” Marinelli said, and that’s key when “teaching to today’s 21st century learner.” Today, she said, students aren’t predisposed “to go from page 1 to 120 – they lose concentration because they live in a fast-paced world.”
“So, we teach to the curriculum – not the textbook,” she said.
This means that teachers are freed up to use the technology at their disposal – iPads in concert with projectors and Smartboards – to present material in a way that students can more readily assimilate.
And, at the same time, Marinelli said, this instructional strategy promotes independent thinking and learning as well.
“In the math class, for example, a student can take a picture of an algebra problem and e-mail it to themselves to review at home, especially if they’re not good at taking notes in class,” she said.
Using a lease-purchase arrangement, the district acquired about 700 iPads for the high school population, including some extras in case of breakage, Marinelli said. That came out to $379 per instrument.
“We are the only district in Bergen County that I’m aware of that has the iPads available on a one-to-one basis to high school students,” Marinelli said.
In another personnelrelated district development, Marinelli said that Lyndhurst has successfully petitioned the Bergen County Superintendent of Schools’ Office for permission to exceed the budget cap for administration by hiring two additional kindergarten to grade 8 school principals, although the district’s overall budget must still stay within the state mandated 2% cap.
She said that one of those slots will be a new position and the other will be a replacement, triggered by the resignation of Washington School Principal Jean FurloFurlong- Gordon.
Currently, the principal assigned to Jefferson School (grades 4 to 8) and Columbus School (grades k to 3) also covers Washington School (grades pre-k disabled to grade 3) and an interim principal is now handling Lincoln School (grades 4 to 8).