Chad Solomon's 7th grade science students can share in the teaching in hisclass this year.
That's because Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, where Solomon teaches, along with 22 other Chicago Public Schools, received sets of iPads for classroom use starting this fall, utilizing federal grant funds.
In Solomon's class, the iPad has allowed students to break away from relying on "10-year-old textbooks" and engage with real science issues by mapping food deserts and commenting to scientists about their research.
The new device, which debuted last April, changed the game for Solomon and has already made an impact in schools around Chicago as an educational resource.
In his 11 years at Whitney Young, it's usually been, "I'm the expert; I'm the master," Solomon says. "Here, we're working on it together."
Solomon said his students love this approach, so much so that students inmorning classes sometimes skip lunch to sit in on his afternoon lessons.
Last week, he used iPads to help students review for final exams this week. In about 15 minutes, he found and downloaded a free app, called Clicker and set up a review game to go over content to be tested.
As students answered questions on their iPads, Solomon says his own device updated in real-time, showing him how students were doing and help those who needed it in a small, private setting.
Solomon says the iPads have helped his rapport with the students. They see that he is experimenting as a teacher, he says, and that, together, they are "pushing the limits of education."
CPS offered the grant to individual schools because the tech tools have "limitless capabilities" in the classroom and "can support learning across levelsand subjects," says Bobby Otter, a school district representative.
The iPads are now being used to support all types of learning and learners, including students with special needs or limited English language skills, he said.
Many Chicago schools applied, and those that were successful submitted innovative proposals explaining "how they were going to use them as an educational device, as opposed to just wanting them," Otter said.
"It's gotten teachers excited," he said. "But more important, it's gotten students excited."
Take Solomon's standard lesson on waterborne disease. In the past, that's meant looking at a history of cholera outbreaks. This year, the students used iPads to research the on-going cholera outbreak in Haiti. Now, says Solomon, "the students are a part of the story."
Don't look for iPads to be coming to your child's school anytime soon, though. Otter says that although feedback from teachers has been overwhelmingly positive, the iPad grant was only a pilot, although the district is applying for more money from the state.
Funding aside, Solomon says he doesn't see the iPad being a "backpack replacement" just yet, but sees technology making a major impact in theclassrooms of the future.
"I feel like we have barely scratched the surface of how these devices willchange our classrooms," he says. "But it will be for the better."
Gulnaz Saiyed is a writer for the Medill News Service.