STRATFORD - A power strip in Deb Bergman's classroom is lined with half a dozen Google tablet chargers. The bright green covers on the tablets identify the devices as belonging to the third and fourth graders.
The Stratford school students are stationed at several locations around the room - some at desks, some on cushions on the floor, others in a comfy chair - reading, writing letters to an author and working through math problems. All of them have a Google tablet in their hands.
The students at Stratford Community Schools are no strangers to new technology. They have Smart Boards in the classrooms and took part in a pilot project with pocket PCs last year. Like many other school districts around the state, Stratford teachers are looking for new and exciting ways to integrate technology into every aspect of learning.
Teacher Lisa Schaa works with Stratford kindergarten student Kira Andrews on a Google tablet app. Teachers at all grades levels at the school have been integrating the tablets into classroom activities.
When the school decided to replace a series of outdated laptops, Lisa Schaa, the school's technology guru, suggested the district look at getting tablets instead. They looked at laptops, but Schaa said the Google Nexus tablets were less than half the cost and provided much of the same options and comparable applications.
The third and fourth grade students now have the tablets, she said. The fifth and sixth grade students use laptops. More tablets were purchased for use in the lower elementary grades and Schaa said the devices have proven to be very popular.
"They were signing up and moving them all around to use them," she said. "So we got eight tablets for the kindergarten and 10 for the first and second graders to use."
Even though there is a virtual keyboard on the tablets, Schaa said the students like using the accompanying roll-up keyboards.
"Google didn't intend for these to use keyboards," said Schaa, "But people still want to use them."
Some of the students said that the keyboards are bigger and easier to type on.
In addition to the keyboard, the students also use a stylus as well as their finger to navigate the tablet. Bergman said for certain apps, the stylus is preferable to the finger.
"Sometimes if you are on a map and you have to tap on a state in the Northeast, the stylus can get into those small spaces," Bergman said.
Each of the third and fourth graders have a vinyl bag in which they keep their tablets, chargers and keyboards. There's also a pair of headphones to be used with the tablets so they can hear more clearly while not disturbing other students.
On this particular day, the third and fourth grade students were listening to readings while others were writing letters about bullying to author Dav Pilkey who writes the "Captain Underpants" books. Still others were listening to stories.
Bergman said the use of the tablets falls right in line with the principles of the Common Core curriculum set out by the state of Iowa.
"There is a technology component to the Common Core. It says students will produce and publish writing, use technology and gather information from visual sources and interpret from lots of diverse media," she said.
Bergman said she liked the fact that the tablets are available at a moments notice as they have proven to be a valuable reference tool for the students. The young people readily access Google to search for answers when their curiosity is piqued.
"They can go and look up things they're interested in," she said. Recently, students were curious about what mesas look like. On Google Earth, they found a view of the terrain.
Bergman said she often searches for apps that will help her students.
"Since we are third and fourth grade, we need differentiation. If we see a student has a deficit in a certain area, we might search for an app that would be good additional practice for them after the one-on-one that we are able to give them," she said. Bergman said the apps differentiate the instruction and also help reinforce skills the students learn in the classroom.
"The school has been very good about letting us get the apps that we need," Bergman said. In fact, the school foundation has donated funds for the purchase of applications.
Down the hall in the kindergarten grade room, students are playing alphabet and reading games on their tablets. Teachers help them get set up with headphones. The students are very conscientious about making sure the tablets are put away in good condition. They know the devices are not for playtime.
The first and second graders in Gina Ambrose's classroom were also hard at work on their tablets.
"I can show you how to turn them on," said Anastacia Jensen, a first grader.
"They weren't very hard to learn," she said. "Mrs. Schaa had a class with us to show us."
Reading on her tablet is a favorite way to use her tablet, Anastacia said.
Ambrose said she is finding her students are becoming more independent with the tablets. The students are able to open the apps they wish to use on their own and begin their work.
"They love the tablets," she said. "They are very clear that these are not toys."
Ambrose said some of the students don't have access to the Internet and the school tablets offers them new resource.
"So, it's like we're giving them a new experience and a wider range of opportunities," she said. "The tablets are just great for these first and second graders."
Schaa said she urged music teacher Jon Jensen to find some music apps to use on the tablets.
"I said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if they could play these in the Christmas Concert?'" Schaa said. At the recent Iowa Technology and Education Connection conference, she discovered there were many different apps available for music tools.
Currently, the students are working with Youth Musical Instruments, which allows them to play rhythm instruments. During a recent visit to the music class, the students demonstrated the app by taking turns tapping out rhythms on virtual tambourines, jingle bells, drums and triangles. One by one, the youngsters stepped to the front of the classroom to demonstrate a rhythm, which the class then repeated back.
Superintendent Sarah Binder said the school had been building its technology resources for several years and have looked to Schaa to assist with implementing the new devices.
"Lisa is very interested in technology and has been for some time," Binder said. "She used a lot of technology in art and TAG classes.
"We kind of came to the conclusion that she knew a whole more about technology than most teachers did, especially ways to integrate it into the classroom. But how to get teacher to that point, was the question."
"Five years ago, we started a model," she said. "We began setting up tech days where Lisa works with the classroom teacher. They think about what projects should look like or what they want the children to be able to do."
The teachers hold four evening meetings throughout the school year to look at new ways to integrate technology, new methods and ways to approach projects and curriculum.
Binder said that Google has opened the window for children to explore and find answers to questions on their own.
"They are checking spelling, vocabulary, math facts - all at their fingertips and they can access them at certain times during the day," she said.
Binder said the children are very motivated to look up information on the tablet when they might not be motivated to get up and go open up a print dictionary.
"We have found ways to integrate the tablets into their class," she said. "The students have also integrated the tablet into their day. They are by themselves finding ways to use them."