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New strategy for middle school engagement: iPods for all

Looks like I was born too soon — my middle school is considering giving an iPod touch to every student and teacher. All the school ever gave me was a spiral-bound planner filled with motivational platitudes!

Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill, N.C. is hoping to raise $230,000 in private funds to become the first K-12 school to give an iPod to every student. Detractors say the potential for abuse and the initiative’s price tag outweigh any possible benefits. But Culbreth’s principal maintains that any tool that keeps kids engaged and allows teachers to “meet [students] where they are” is worth experimenting with.

Apple’s “App Store” is stocked with tools that a middle school student might find useful, such as foreign language dictionaries and a graphing calculator. I’m not sure whether any well-designed programs that are specifically aligned to middle school curricula exist for the iPod. But if they did, the iPods could be tremendous learning tools, particularly for students who prefer a hands-on approach to understanding new material. I spent time recently with a friend who is in her third year of medical school. She recently bought an interactive set of anatomy flashcards for her iPhone — and promptly learned many of the body parts that had escaped her memory in the past. She said having the physical experience of poking at the kidney’s medulla and being able to study whenever she had a chance, not just sitting at a desk, improved her retention.

Plus, she said, studying suddenly felt more stylish.

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