Wrangell second-graders use their new iPads to record a weather report. (Katarina Sostaric/KSTK)

The Wrangell School District brought its elementary school up to a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio last month by giving each student an iPad to use in class.

Evergreen Elementary School students used to get old laptops handed down from the high school. This year, the Wrangell School District saw an opportunity to replace the aging laptops with iPads, which cost less and are easier to maintain.

Wrangell second-graders got to start using their new iPads in class by creating multimedia books.

“I’m creating a book about weather, and it’s really fun,” said Kayla Young, a second-grade student at Evergreen Elementary School.

The book she is talking about is a multimedia presentation created entirely with her new iPad.

“We’re gonna put some stuff we know about weather and some new stuff that we’re gonna know about weather,” Young said.

The second-graders can type, draw, take photos, and record video and audio in a matter of minutes, and then add it all to their own digital books to express what they have learned about weather patterns. And they can do it all with one device.

Cheryl Bobo came to Wrangell through the Association of Alaska School Boards’ Consortium for Digital Learning to help local teachers implement iPads in their classrooms.

“The iPads do some things different than a laptop. A laptop certainly does some things an iPad can’t do, but the iPad offers students a lot of opportunity for creativity and creation,” Bobo said. “So it’s not skill and drill kinds of things. They’re actually creating useful things, and integrating the content areas is going to be really important.”

Bobo said iPads have been a popular choice for elementary schools because the kids are not quite ready for typing, and the iPads are more interactive.

“I think they’re real natural at touching and searching and looking for icons that are similar,” Bobo said.

Second-grader Timothy Garcia said he is excited about working with the iPads in class.

“Because we’re used to little technology things instead of big things. Laptops are really heavy,” Garcia said.

Most students said they have used iPads or similar devices at home, so they already know how to use tablets for playing games.

But Bobo said it is important for students and parents to think about the iPad as a learning tool.

“The content didn’t change at school, and the great teachers in Wrangell didn’t change. It’s them getting the skills to be sure this tool can do everything that it’s capable of doing,” Bobo said. “I think it’s a misnomer that this is supposed to teach them something. This is just a tool to access their knowledge or create new knowledge.”

Second-grade teacher Mikki Angerman said emphasizing the iPad’s role as a tool helps to keep the kids on task.

“We had iPads in here, and I have not had one single problem as far as misusing it or being off-task. They’re engaged. They want to be using these for their learning,” Angerman said. “So it makes it really easy.”

And there are classroom rules for using the iPads. When a teacher is talking, the students put their iPads face down on their desks. And they can’t pick them back up until the teacher tells them to “flip it.”

Angerman said in addition to teaching iPad etiquette in the classroom, they also focus on “digital citizenship.”

“We talk about not only how to treat their technology, but also how to stay safe with it,” Angerman said. “And what to do if they see something that shouldn’t be there. They tell an adult.”

She said she thinks educators need to keep pushing forward and continue to employ technology that engages their students.

“Because we’re not building cars with our hands anymore. We’re building cars with robots. And we need kids being able to have this technology in their hands, because this is really where the future’s going. And it’s so exciting that Wrangell’s on the map and they’re doing it,” Angerman said.

Matt Gore, a paraprofessional at the elementary school, said the iPads simplify the process of integrating technology in the classroom.

“Where it used to be the maintenance of a laptop and the price of a full laptop and having all of the different applications that had to be managed, these allow easy interactions for teachers to post things and students to get to them easily. And it really takes out kind of a barrier that has really impacted technology in education for a while,” Gore said. “So it really is opening, hopefully, some new doors and will expose the kids to some of the technology they might see in the workplace as they get older.”

Bobo said iPads also offer teachers and students more opportunities to move around while teaching and learning.

“Gathering data in the field will be so awesome,” Bobo said. “These are waterproof. They can go right out. If they fall in the creek, you pick them up and keep working.”

Angerman’s second-grade students just stayed in their classroom to work with their new iPads. But they completed their multimedia books by dressing up in sunglasses and umbrellas to report the weather on camera.

Wrangell High School students continue to use laptops, and the district is still deciding whether iPads or laptops will work best for the middle school.