Apple rep pitches iPad possibilities
by Kellen Moore
About 30 community members gathered Wednesday for a presentation that Watauga County Schools administrators hope will put wheels in motion for a technology initiative for K-8 students.
Mark Benno, known as the “curriculum evangelist” at Apple, shared several ways that the iPad can be used as an educational tool in a discussion that was part classroom lesson and part sales pitch.
“Investing in our kids is ultimately investing back in us, because they’re going to be sitting in our seats,” Benno said to the crowd that included school board members, county commissioners, political candidates and education advocates.
Throughout his presentation, Benno conveyed the overall importance of embracing new learning techniques while also demonstrating specific, downloadable Apps that can be used in educational settings.
From apps that read aloud to children to interactive, 3-D periodic tables, the iPad offers a range of opportunities to engage students and help them to focus on the core concepts in new ways, Benno said.
With iTunes U, teachers also can record their own lessons, create their own textbooks or draw from other teachers who have done the same.
“It’s kind of a Swiss Army Knife for education, if you will,” he said of the iPad.
Benno and other Apple representatives also met earlier Wednesday with groups of teachers and administrators to give an overview of how education professionals can use the company’s devices.
He said he was pleased to see that about half of the faculty members raised their hands when asked if they had used an iPad before.
“You know what that means for you?” Benno said Wednesday evening. “It means that the professional development side of the conversation is not as heavy as it used to be.”
Board of Education Chairwoman Deborah Miller, who attended the discussion, said the iPad or other digital devices offer endless possibilities, particularly in helping to fill in the gaps where state funding has been slashed for textbook purchases.
She said the school board has tasked the superintendent with leading the expansion of the school system’s one-to-one technology initiative, which already provides use of a laptop for Watauga High School students.
“This is definitely the wave of the future, but it is here and now,” she said.
Superintendent David Kafitz stressed that the very nature of education has changed, and that Watauga County Schools must act if it wants to keep at the front of the pack.
“Think back to when you were in the classroom,” he said. “Most of us went to school in the time where the true, authoritative source of information was where? In the encyclopedia.”
“Our kids don’t have to do that,” he said. “They know that they can get to content well beyond what’s in the encyclopedia. … That is a radical shift in how we work and how we learn and how we play.”
Kafitz said those factors make it an exciting time to be in education, a field in which Watauga County must continue to excel as it has for more than 100 years.
“I don’t like playing catch-up. I never have,” Kafitz said. “If we don’t take the steps to start moving in this direction, we are going to find ourselves woefully behind.”