Then came the unusual.
He asked his students to reposition the iPads on the music stands in front of them.
"Do you like them in regular paper mode, up and down?" he said. "My preference is I like landscape mode because I can see the notes better."
This is what is happening at the school for sixth-through eighth-graders in Marysville where all of the 181 students traded in their textbooks this year for iPads. It's the only school in Snohomish County that has made the switch and one of the first in the state.
The iPads, which can cost anywhere from $399 to $699, take the place of most school books, journals and planners and are used by students to receive and complete school assignments.
Parents were required to send their child to school with their own device or check one out from the Marysville School District. The district bought iPads with money raised by the 10th Street Boosters club during the past school year. The goal was for every student at the school to have an iPad on the first day, English teacher James DeLazzari said.
There were 100 district owned iPads available for students to check out before the start of the school year on Sept. 5. On Thursday, 46 of those district devices were being used by students.
"Everyone else went out and bought their own," DeLazzari said. "I know of two kids that had garage sales and sold stuff out of their house until they could afford to get one themselves."
A student is able to use a loaned device if their iPad is broken. The iPads that are not used this year will be loaned out next year to incoming sixth-graders who need to borrow a device.
School staff and parents last year considered buying 30 iPads to replace aging computers at the school and to give students an opportunity to use newer technology. The idea grew into every student using their own individual iPad. Only eight other school districts in Washington have reported using iPads for instruction, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Parents were encouraged to buy insurance for their devices. All iPads that are loaned out are also insured, and teachers remind students to be responsible, DeLazzari said.
"We tell them to think of it like cash," he said. "If you take it out and flash it around on the bus, leave it in your backpack and then walk away from that, it's not a good plan."
The district-owned devices do come with some restrictions that include a disabled camera but all devices have programs or "apps" for class time and homework. Students use one app called Notability to take notes and keep track of their work and assignments in different classes. That app and others help Sam Dobesh, 14, stay more organized.
"Everything's there," he said. "Because I'm very forgetful it would be I would walk into class and walk out like 10 times getting a pencil and then I would walk back in and think, 'Oh now I need paper.' Now I just take one thing."
With two math courses planned this year, Sam is happy he won't need to lug around a couple of big books. Instead, the books will be available on his iPad.
"That's a big load off," Sam said.
Christopher Leonard, 13, said figuring out his iPad is getting easier the more he uses it. Being able to access the Internet any time is good in class, Christopher added.
"Sometimes the teacher would say during the last year, 'Go check this out on the Internet' and I would forget to do it," he said. "I don't like using it in band so much, I prefer normal paper then, but otherwise I'm loving it in all my classes. It's much more organized."
Math teacher Brian Churchill has noticed plenty of benefits with iPads. For instance, students can use different colors to show how they solved math problems. Learning how to use the iPads and getting comfortable with them is taking time and effort though.
"I'm finding as a teacher we're investing a lot of time in learning how to write on iPads," Churchill said. "It's like second grade penmanship all over again; so slow at first and then we're getting faster at scribing and neatness. The kids and I are all learning together."
Seventh-graders Sarah Turral and Ani Bleakley agreed using the iPads for most of their class work is taking time.
"I really think iPads are super cool devices and they're fun to try out, but we shouldn't use them for everything," said Sarah, 12. "They might be fine for textbooks because some of the books can be expensive but the notebooks are easier to use."
Students for art class still use a sketchbook and pencils in addition to an app called SketchBook Pro. Ani, 12, said so far she would prefer to write with pencil and paper in all of her classes. She's going to continue getting used to the device though and using it to see if her opinion changes.
The students and teachers aren't the only ones who are adjusting to the change. Richard Boas, whose daughter Emmorie is an eighth-grade student, felt the iPad idea was innovative when it was first introduced to parents. Boas, 40, added he was also a little taken back by the cost of the device and worries about it being lost, stolen or damaged. It hasn't been long enough to tell if the program is successful, he said.
"I think if we had bought an iPad at our house before my kids would have argued and fought over it but because it's related to school and she uses it six hours a day it definitely has lost some of its uniqueness," Boas said.
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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