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Benton Elementary brings iPads into the classroom

Teacher Denise Lasley uses an iPad at Benton Elementary School.
Lee Jian Chung
Teacher Denise Lasley uses an iPad at Benton Elementary School.

Columbia’s Thomas Benton Elementary School received 50 iPads at the beginning of the school year. The technology’s been used in classes such as Art, Music and P.E. KBIA’s Lee Jian Chung looked at how these tablet computers are being introduced into schools and whether or not it could replace the chalkboard.

By Lee Jian Chung

In a wooden trailer behind the Thomas Benton Elementary School, Teacher Denise Lasley guides 10-year old Ashley Cascio on how to put a sentence together using an iPad.

A colorful picture of a couple riding their horses appears on the screen. Ashley needs to construct a sentence describing the picture using a menu with different word options. She slides her finger across the screen to choose the correct pronoun and pushes the big green button at the bottom of the screen.

It’s easy, even a kid can do it. Not sentence structure, but using a tablet computer. Ashley is using one of 50 iPads that Benton Elementary bought at the beginning of the school year. These tablets were introduced into classrooms after its curriculum was revised to focus more on science, engineering, mathematics and technology, which are referred to as STEM fields.

And it’s engaging, maybe too engaging as Lasley has to keep the iPad out of Ashley’s reach. She wants to start the next game. Benton is not the only school using tablet computers: Blue Ridge, Russell and Ridgeway Elementary have also begun using them in their classrooms as well.

Lasley says with more tablet computers being introduced into the home and the workplace, teachers and students are excited about the possibilities:

“It motivates the kids because they get that instant reinforcement to see, yeah, I got that right or, no, I didn’t and I need to work on this.”

The real test for tablet computers in Benton Elementary will be whether it can improve scores in math and communication arts. For the past three years,  Benton Elementary has not met the communication requirements under No Child Left Behind. The school met the math requirements for 2011 before revising their curriculum, but the bar is being set higher every year. And there is another challenge to introducing any new technology into schools.

"Money, money is the biggest challenge," said Benton Elementary Principal Troy Hogg, “but I am also very excited because there are large number of grants that are available, especially for promoting STEM education. ”

By revising their curriculum, Benton Elementary school will be able to receive a wider variety of grants. But according to Leslie Trodgen , Director of School Improvement for Columbia, there are a limited number of grants designed to introduce tablet computers to schools. Blue Ridge, Russell and Ridgeway Elementary bought their iPads using either Building or Parent-Teacher Association funds.

Hogg says the use of tablets could also inspire students to pursue future careers in technology:

“One thing about Benton is that we do have a large number of students which live in poverty which means they don’t necessarily have all the technology at home. And for us to put an iPad in the hand of a kid who may not have that experience otherwise, it really evens the playing field a little bit. When they get to middle school and when they get to high school and they are using more of that technology, they’re going to have that experience already.”

He says it is difficult to know how effective tablet technology is in Benton Elementary’s classrooms. One measure of success would be the Missouri Assessment Program, which tests for math and communications, in April. A study is also being conducted by the Missouri College of Education to determine the effectiveness of iPads in the first grade.