With her iPad in hand, Angel Watkins settles into the chair beside her classmate Kamar Hammad.
The girls are in the process of creating an imaginary country. They get to decide where their country is located, its name, and what type of government under which it will operate.
Angel and Kamar have already drawn pictures of what their country will look like. On Tuesday, they were entering details in a document using applications on their iPads.
"We're thinking about how we should describe our country," Kamar said.
Angel and Kamar and their fellow sixth-graders at Elm City Middle School were the first middle school students in the district to receive their new iPads this school year.
All middle schools in the district have started letting their sixth graders take home their iPads, according to Daniel Vogelman, assistant superintendent for accountability and technology for Wilson County Schools.
Wilson County Schools is providing all middle school students with iPads this school year. On Tuesday night, the last of three meetings for parents of seventh and eighth graders was held at Fike High School. About 1,200 people attended that session. Vogelman said about 400 people attended the meeting at Beddingfield High and about 700 people attended the session at Hunt High School.
Distribution of the iPads to seventh and eighth graders will occur between Oct. 15 and 26.
Kamar said she likes working with an iPad because she gets to write and draw on it.
"It's fun because you get to be creative," Angel said.
Angel and Kamar learned on Tuesday how to electronically submit their homework to Sara Gutierrez, their science and social studies teacher, using the Dropbox application.
Gutierrez walks the students through the process step-by-step all the while reassuring them that they can take home paper copies of their homework if they're not comfortable yet doing all the work on their iPad.
Gutierrez reminds the students that she is the only person who will be able to see their homework. She also points out that doing the work on their iPads will eliminate her having to make so many copies of homework sheets each morning.
"I think it will be a lot easier," Angel said about submitting her homework using her iPad.
Gutierrez spent part of her summer researching different applications she can use with her students. She's taking advantage of training offered by the school district. She's also turning to resources suggested by other teachers across the country who already have experience using iPads with their students.
Gutierrez said she's using traditional textbooks somewhat with her classes this year. But mainly students are using online textbooks and researching information online. It's a change Gutierrez is enjoying because the class is now more interactive.
Gutierrez said the students can see what scientists are studying now not what information was printed in a textbook a year or more ago.
She describes what the district is doing as making the students more globally competitive.
While Angel and Kamar worked on creating their imaginary country, other students in the classroom were researching information about chemical elements. For homework Monday night, Gutierrez's students on paper created bohr's diagrams for different elements. In class on Tuesday, the students used applications on their iPads to create bohr's diagrams and projected those diagrams on a screen in a classroom while they explained their answers to the class.
It's the increase in student engagement and the ability to be more creative that appeals to Eddie Doll, Elm City Middle's principal, when it comes to students using the iPads.
"They're definitely learning," Doll said.
Doll said the students are learning skills now, like how to use Dropbox, that will benefit them later. Doll already has teachers giving assessments on the iPads. Another benefit discovered already is the fact students can adjust the font size of documents so they can more easily see them.
Doll said the distribution went smoothly. Before students can take the iPads home their parents have to sign and return an agreement that holds them responsible for repairing or replacing the devices if they are damaged by the student. Doll said they've had one parent thus far to refuse to sign the agreement.
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