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October 20, 2012

New horizons

iPads offer more opportunities for students, educators

METHUEN — Ninth-grader Michael Jackson tapped at the iPad in front of him, writing an explanation for his 12 classmates of what mofongo is.

The exercise was for students to create a short slide show describing what one kind of food they would want if they were stranded on a desert island. Jackson, a native of Puerto Rico, found a picture of a mofongo, pasted it on a slide and sent it to a large flat-screen TV at the front of the classroom.

“It’s a plantain, and it’s fried,” he explained to his classmates. On the slide, he typed a brief explanation below the word. Mofongo, he said, is a Puerto Rican dish, where a green plantain is mashed and shaped into a bowl and deep fried. It is filled with a broth and anything from beef to shrimp to vegetables.

Teacher Matt Howshan said the iPad tablet computers were introduced this year into his program, which is called Horizon and intervenes with students at high risk of dropping out in school. He said they have kept a group of students who have had past issues with grades and attendance coming to class daily. One of the key factors, according to the students, is most of the work is done as a group, where all the kids participate at once on the iPads and on screen, rather than working individually from a notebook while a teacher lectures.

Students said the collaboration, whether one student is creating a slide or another is giving a presentation on a prominent Italian Renaissance figure, means they often create projects together and interact on the iPads during and after class.

“Here, everyone is in the conversation and in-depth with what’s going on,” said ninth grader James Kane.

The iPads, which stay in Howshan’s classroom, are connected to the Internet through the school’s wireless network. The network has security features to block inappropriate content, and opens up class assignments, communication and notes to the web so the kids can access their work at home.

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