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Interview: Piedmont City Schools

Successful iPad Integration in a Rural School District

In this interview, Principal Chris Hanson and first grade teacher Candy Mobley explain how Piedmont City Schools launched an award-winning technology initiative and increased student engagement with a 1:1 iPad program.

Chris Hanson

K-5 Principal

Mr. Hanson is the elementary principal at Piedmont City School District in Alabama. A graduate of the district himself, he has spent the last 19 years in education. Mr. Hanson received bachelor’s, master’s and educational specialist degrees in school administration from Jacksonville State University. He taught ninth and 10th grade history at Piedmont High School before beginning his current role as principal of the elementary school.

Candy Mobley

First Grade Teacher

Ms. Mobley has been a first grade teacher at Piedmont for nine years and has used iPads in her classroom for the past three years.

Q: Where did you find funding for your 1:1 iPad program?

Chris Hanson: We use several different funds. We have a county sales tax that was implemented about four to five years ago specifically for education. Instead of us paying for a lot of personnel, we started using some of that money to provide for our technology. Also, we partner with our 21st century afterschool program, and we’re able to manage some of our technology through them. We’ve also used some of our Title I funding, but we are a school district that does not have a lot of local funds. Our city provides less than $100,000 on a yearly basis for our school. Even though we are a city school, we don’t have a lot of tax backs. Those are our three big areas for funding: Title 1, county tax, and sharing iPads with our after school program.

Q: How do iPads and eSpark make administrators' lives easier?

Chris Hanson: Well, first off, when we got eSpark, I thought, Here’s another program that’s going to take a lot of knowledge to figure out exactly what’s going on. But it’s made my life a lot easier when it comes to looking at the entire grade level of data. I’m able to log into the dashboard in my office, and I can look and see exactly how long a student’s been on a certain standard, how long they’ve been working on it, and if they’ve been stuck. I can make sure that our students are continuing to complete assignments.

One of our big questions was, Where is student achievement going, and how are we tracking that information? eSpark helps our students, our teachers, and our administration by making it much simpler to look at data in our school.

Q: How do iPads and eSpark make teachers' lives easier?

Candy Mobley: It is somewhat overwhelming to look at all of the apps that are available for learning purposes. eSpark does that work for us. It finds a specific app that addresses each specific strand that we’re looking at. I know from experience that there are hundreds and hundreds of educational apps. eSpark goes through that process for you. Not only do they find the exact app to address a specific need, they’ll also tell you within that app what sections that you need to go to. Do you go to the blue door or the red door? Are you on level 1, or are you on level 2? They’ve done that work for the teacher. It makes it extremely easy to attack exactly what we need to do.

Also, it’s very easy for the teachers to monitor student growth. I can look at any time from my teacher dashboard to see exactly where a student is. I can see what students have done on that particular day, see every video that they’ve made, and I can see every test question that they’ve been asked. I can see if a student is having trouble in any specific area, and it’s very easy to make as many changes as I need to. If I see that a lesson is too easy for a student, I can move that student up to the next level.

"We’ve had a wonderful success rate. Even our teachers that have been a little bit hard to come around to technology have had no problems with eSpark."

Q: What were some of the challenges to implementing eSpark? How did you overcome them?

Candy Mobley: When implementing any new program, as teachers and administrators both know, it really comes back to asking Are the teachers comfortable with it and can they manage it well? In our case, we are exposed to so many opportunities to utilize technology, and our teachers are more comfortable with classroom devices than others might be. Still, there’s a learning curve with any new classroom tool.

We use our data results from the NWEA MAP assessment, and from that eSpark delivers us our own learning path for each individual student. It’s been easy to make changes to these learning paths. If I see that a student is having trouble in a specific area, I can go back and adjust their learning path easily at any time.

The biggest challenge is the [device] training. For the students, there’s hardly any training at all. A young student can see a new iPad or tablet and take to it rather quickly and very easily. So the biggest challenge, I think, was from a teacher’s perspective. But we’ve had a wonderful success rate. Even our teachers that have been a little bit hard to come around to technology have had no problems with eSpark.

Q: How have student engagement levels changed over the last couple of years?

Candy Mobley: The engagement level is fantastic with eSpark. Children, of course, are drawn to the device to start with, but because they utilize apps rather than the more traditional computer games that we see in other places, they’re more engaged.

I don’t think eSpark replaces instruction at all, but I’ve noticed that my advanced students will stop me when I’m teaching them a new concept and say to me, “Oh, I get it, Ms. Mobley. I’ve seen this in eSpark.” It gives them a jump start. eSpark also helps students that are struggling.

When I cover a new subject in class, I know they’re going to get more practice on it through eSpark. When working on their eSpark quest, they’ll come up to me and say, “Oh, we did this earlier. I know what this is now.” eSpark is another layer of instruction, and it supports and supplements my lessons. It’s a perfect mix, in my opinion.

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