Solana Santa Fe teachers praise success of school’s iPilot program


When fourth grade students at Solana Santa Fe (SSF) are getting ready for a math lesson, they’re not necessarily taking out a pencil and paper. Instead, they’re more likely to be turning on an iPad and using the Doodle Buddy application.

This school year SSF launched an iPilot program in the two fourth grade classrooms. Using funds from last year’s school-wide technology drive, iPads were purchased for one classroom and iPod Touches were purchased for the other. Halfway through the school year, the students swapped mobile devices.

“We live in a digital world and these children are digital natives. Technology is part of their existence,” said Julie Norby, SSF’s principal. “It is unrealistic to think that our students should come to school and completely unplug.”

Norby began planning for the iPilot project a year ago and worked with the school’s fourth grade teachers Cara Spitzmiller and Angie Tremble.

“Schools are microcosms of society. We teach children how to be productive citizens and if we are not using the latest tools of society, then we are failing our children,” said Norby.

The goal of the pilot project was to learn how the devices could facilitate learning and student engagement, as well as to compare the iPad and iPod to determine which was more effective.

After eight months, the teachers are praising the success of the iPilot program and have found that the devices have become an integral part of learning. Both teachers and their students agreed that the iPad was more effective and had broader applications.

“It’s the new essential tool for the 21st century,” said Spitzmiller.

She said they have discovered many benefits using these devices, including increased class participation. “There’s a real energy, passion and engagement among the kids,” said Spitzmiller.

Fourth graders have used a variety of apps and websites for their schoolwork, which are incorporated throughout the day. Many of the apps are cross-curricular, meaning they can be used for several different school subjects. Both teachers have attended training programs to learn about the devices and the applications available. Some of the apps being used include Voice Memo for reading fluency, Popplet for vocabulary practice and Keynote for social studies and science projects.

“Having mobile devices in the classroom encourages creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking,” said Tremble. “It prepares students for the global economy with the teacher acting as a coach or guide.”

The plan is to expand the iPilot program to other grade levels next school year. SSF is currently holding a technology drive to raise money for new technology, including the purchase of additional iPads.

“With the help of parent and community support through donations made to the Solana Beach Foundation for Learning, the school hopes to continue using mobile devices for the students currently in the program while expanding it to additional students,” said Misty Thompson, a parent at Solana Santa Fe who is coordinating the technology drive. “Solana Santa Fe welcomes community support for this important program.” Thompson said the school is also accepting the donation of used iPads and will give a tax receipt for all donations.

“These devices are revolutionizing education,” said Norby. “In order to be successful, you have to be willing to change the way we teach and the way children learn.”

The technology fund drive will continue through May 11. More information is available by calling Solana Santa Fe (858) 794-4700.

By Stacey Phillips