It’s not the usual, "Get out your paper and number two pencils." in Tammy McCollum’s eighth-grade career orientation class.

The middle school students at Carl Stuart use far more advanced tools, Apple’s biggest new product, and smallest tablet computer weighing in at 25 ounces, the iPad.

McCollum was told by her Apple representative that her school was the first to receive a classroom set of iPads, anywhere.

"Toward the close of last year’s school year, I started thinking about different avenues to increase student interest and ways to improve high school and college research. Apple introduced the iPad and I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment," McCollum said.

McCollum contacted the Arkansas Department of Workforce Education and discussed a grant opportunity available through the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, an act that dedicates almost $1.3 billion in federal support for career and technical education programming.

Donna Lyon, Conway Public School District’s Carl D. Perkins coordinator, carried the completed grant to the appropriate parties, where it was approved for more than $25,000. 

The grant provided for 30 classroom iPads, equipped with keyboard docks, iSkins, connectors, camera hardware, software and inservice training.

When Mrs. McCollum asked her class what they thought about their iPads, they unanimously replied that they were "awesome."

"It’s been a huge moral booster. Students are more interested in what we’re doing in this class. This is they way of the world. They use technology every day, so why wouldn’t we stay current- since that is the way they live their lives. This makes learning come to life for them," McCollum said.

Student Addie Blakely said her family was "very impressed" with the news that she would be researching and completing assignments with the new tool. Blakely said her career orientation class was the first opportunity for her to use an iPad.

"I love it. It’s easy to use and there’s a guide to help us. My family said they didn’t have anything like this when they were in school," Blakely said.

McCollum said Wednesday that the sixth period students in her classroom were using their iPads to research possible vocations that fit their individual interests to be used as the subject of an Arkansas Career Guidance Association poster contest.

"The iPad makes web research easier, faster and very addictive. Students use iWork productivity applications to put together professional documents, presentations and spreadsheets," McCollum said. "People ask me all the time what we will do with these. That’s a funny question because I feel like saying, ‘What won’t we do with these?’"

The iPads are also equipped with tools such as a screen reader that make learning accessible to students with physical or learning disabilities, according to McCollum.

"That feature allows me to personalize learning. That way all students will benefit."

McCollum said the iPads were not playthings, but something "they’ll use to build projects and documents that they’ll use all the way through their adult lives."

Students will exit McCollum’s class with a completed resume.

"In this class we’re trying to find each student’s interests and values. We’ll narrow them down and hopefully give them a good place to start. In this class, they choose their high school path. They’re making a lot of heavy decisions here," McCollum said.

McCollum recently procured a one-acre pond to be constructed on the Carl Stuart Middle School campus through a grant provided by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Hooked on Fishing- Not on Drugs.

The pond’s construction on the south end of the campus will begin in two weeks. McCollum said the pond will be open to the public and stocked with fish.

"I hope that this gives our tween students something to do. I also hope for a fall fishing derby where all will be involved, from the cheerleader to the special ed. student, to the computer geek, to the football player. These years are a great time to do things together and learn that we are all equal," said McCollum.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)