To the distinguished panel of observers, something in Katie McMullan's eighth-grade classroom at Discovery Middle School looked different.
Students worked in groups to solve linear equations multiple ways. That wasn't so different. But each student held an Apple iPad and quickly moved between three or four applications to solve the equation.
Jamie Young, 13, and Wesley Sizemore, 14, worked together, talking through questions such as:
"What's the 20?"
"Are you sure?"
"Are we supposed to graph this table or chart it?"
"What should we use to create a table?"
All around the room, students were engaged.
More than 100 teachers, administrators and school board members from around the United States and Canada are gathered in Vancouver this week to observe the ways students use digital tools in classrooms at several Vancouver Public Schools buildings. Using laptop computers and iPad tablets, students demonstrated tools for overcoming speech barriers, composing and recording digital music, robotics, programming video games and more.
The district was one of only four in the nation to be selected by the National School Boards Association to host classroom technology visits. Nationwide, Vancouver is the only district that's been selected three times to demonstrate how its students use technology.
"IPads are the equalizers. They give all students access," Chris Olsen, Discovery's principal, told the visitors. "There's an empowerment element. They're engaged. Oftentimes, students get ahead of their teachers."
Upstairs in Casey Greco's Technology I class, sixth-grader Ilijah Andrews, 12, said, "I'm making a PowerPoint to use all the Microsoft Office tools combined all together."
In all, 25 sixth-graders seated at computers worked on the assignment.
Andy Byerley, a science teacher at Mt. View Middle School in Newberg, Ore., knelt next to a student to ask about her work in the beginning technology class.
Byerley said his district uses desktop technology rather than handheld iPads.
"We're investing more money on programs to help students with engineering and Lego robotics projects," Byerley said.
"But in the technology lab here we saw kids learning Microsoft Office," Byerley said. "We don't do that at my school. Those skills will help them in their schoolwork and make them employable."
Downstairs Patrick Mahaney stood at the front of his seventh-grade language arts classroom, holding an iPad and reading aloud a sample student essay on the electronic device. Each student also held an iPad.
"Read the essay with a partner," Mahaney instructed. "Then rate the essay's quality as high, medium or low. Identify the essay's strengths."
Around the room, the students worked in pairs. Laura Muñoz,13, read the essay aloud while her work partner, Seth Calloway, 13, followed along on his iPad.
Although the iPads have been used at Discovery for two years, Mahaney has used them in his class for about a month. The iPads at Discovery are used in the classrooms but are not checked out for students to take home. That will happen next year.
"They're more engaged," Mahaney said about his students' enthusiasm for the iPads. "It feels interactive. I can give them immediate feedback."