Healdsburg Elementary School's main campus is a classic 20th century schoolhouse, its southwest architecture wrapping around the intersection of First and North streets. It's looked pretty much the same since it was built in 1939; archival photos from the Healdsburg Museum are instantly recognizeable to five or six generations of schoolchildren.
But the future is already unfolding in the K-2 classes inside. Thanks to a grant from the John Jordan Foundation, almost 30 Apple iPads are now part of the inventory at the school, rotating between the classrooms to help with the "Four C's" of education today: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity.
"The students love it," said HES Principal Stephanie Feith. "They think it's a game. As soon as you get the iPads out, they will do whatever they're asked to do."
What they were asked to do in Connie Petereit's second grade class last week was put together a project in groups of 2 or 3 students, documenting every step of the way on the iPad they shared.
Using the "interactive whiteboard" program Educreation, they storyboarded out the project - first on paper, then with photographs they took on the iPad as they worked their way through. Projects like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or folding a paper cup became multi-media learning experiences.
"This is so cool!" was the most frequently heard phrase in the classroom last Thursday afternoon, but it wasn't necessarily coming from the seven-year olds. Instead, it was echoed by members of the Healdsburg Education Fund, the John Jordan Foundation, and at least one member of the local press invited along on the presentation of the "Teaching with Tablets" iPad pilot program.
John Jordan himself was there, the scion of Jordan Winery who has his own business stake in high-tech with Labrador OmniMedia on-premise beverage sales utility Tastevin. It was his interest and investment that spearheaded the innovative project, through the founding $30,000 grant with matching funds by the Syar Foundation.
So too was one Joe DiOrio of Healdsburg Junior High, the "tech coach" for the project. He had selected Educreation as one of several tools selected for the students, a few of which were "freeware" but most of which needed to be purchased.
Also along for the visit were two from the Healdsburg Education Foundation, president Pamela Swan and board member Emily McGrath. Lisa Schaffner, former City Council member in Healdsburg now with the John Jordan Foundation, and the Jordan Winery's Lisa Mattson rounded out the visitors.
The iPad pilot project team looked for similar elementary school projects in the state, and thought they had found one in Cupertino. On visiting, however, they found that Cupertino was "not as far along as we thought they might be," said DiOrio, giving the HES team's even more ambitious plans.
"We really like the iPad because it allows for easy differentiation," said Feith, "the hardest part in any class." One student may learn at one speed, another faster, another slower. Using the iPad in teams it's possible to let the students teach each other, and the results of individual projects can be analyzed by teachers and staff to recognize areas of learning that need to be addressed.
The Teaching with Tablets program has 29 iPads from Apple, as well as a cart to house them all in the school library. The cart, made by Bretford, has vertical racks for the tablets to charge up and off-load the projects to a master iMac laptop, which can also download updates and new programs to multiple tablets at once.
"I think we're so much on the cutting edge here," said HUSD Supervisor Jeff Harding. "We're just beginning to scratch the surface. The potential is tremendous."
Bill Halliday, who shares administration duties between the Jr. High and the Fitch Mountain Campus of HES, said grades 3-5 look forward to their own purchase of iPads for next year. Project expansion to these classes will help determine how iPad/table technology can accelerate learning in upper grades.
"The teachers that aren't in the program are itching for iPads!" said Halliday.
Next door to Petereit's second grade class, through the "cloak room" (as we used to call it when I was in elementary school) that both shared, Lisa Pillinini's first graders were doing another project, but the teacher just had to tell us a story.
"We went to see the seniors at the Senior Center a few days ago to show them the iPads," she said. "The kids took their pictures, showed them what they looked like, shared their projects. For some of the seniors, they had never seen an iPad.
"The kids came up to me later and said, 'It's like we're the teachers and they're the students!'," said Pillinini, shaking her head in amazement.
Clearly, the Teaching with Tablets iPad pilot program is already having an influence even outside the classrooms.