A push to bring more technology into classrooms has the Pasco School District launching the new digital classroom initiative .
The aim is to not only increase the amount of technology in each classroom, but better monitor how teachers and students are using it to build critical-thinking skills, essential for passing state assessments.
At Odessa Elementary School in New Port Richey, kids are interacting not only with each other, but with their iPads.
"It's like learning math in a more interactive way," said Grace Kliewer, a 4th grader.
In her math, science and technology class, she and her classmates are solving problems using digital devices and getting teacher feedback immediately.
"Using apps, you can explore more things," Kliewer said.
Her teacher said using devices like iPads helps make the learning experience more interactive.
"As soon as you pull out a device, they're hooked,: said Mary Wainwright, a STEM teacher at Odessa Elementary School. "They so badly want to get in and research and find and explore. That's what they relate to."
State lawmakers recently budgeted $60 million to upgrade infrastructure in Florida classrooms, Pasco district leaders said. Pasco Schools is now starting the digital classroom initiative as a result and say their cut of the money is going directly to help students.
"They need bandwidth," said Steve Williams, Pasco's Director of Teaching and Learning. "They need accessibility to internet."
By the 2018-2019 school year, Pasco school leaders are aiming for wireless internet access in every classroom. They said that's important, as state assessments are more digitally-based than ever.
"The students have to engage the content," Williams said. "They have to move things around the screen. They really have to use things that cause them to think at a cognitive, complex level."
Wainwright believes using technology in the classroom helps give students feedback more immediately. That way, she can scout out who needs help and in what area. She does this using teacher-based apps on the iPad.
"Instead of taking a stack of papers home with me, I can go through and see how they're doing immediately," Wainwright said.
Through the digital classroom initiative, teachers will also be more closely evaluated on exactly how they and their students are using technology in the classroom.
Pasco Schools recently purchased 8,800 new Apple computers for district classrooms for the 2015-2016 school year. They hope to add several thousand more over the next four years.