The 22 sixth-graders sat at their tables in language arts class Friday morning, iPads idling before them.
One boy examined his reflection in its darkened screen. Another pretended to lick it.
"Fire them up," Winding Waters K-8 language arts teacher Albert Mendez said.
The devices blinked to life.
Students opened their browsers, slowly navigating to a testing site, pulling up a reading assignment called "What is an Ecosystem?"
Within minutes, they were reading and answering 15 questions for Reading Quiz 1a.
This is what the school had in mind when it purchased iPads for the school's 188 sixth-graders, the first grade level in the Hernando school district to get the new technology.
What they didn't expect: that it would take until Friday, three weeks after school began, for each student to have one.
"From my seat, it was frustrating inasmuch as I filled the car up with gas, and we're ready to go, and it wouldn't start," said principal Dave Dannemiller. "I felt like I was letting my teachers and kids down because we're ready to roll and it wasn't there yet."
The school's distribution was delayed due to larger-than-expected enrollment and waiting for protective satchels to arrive for each of the $500 iPads, Dannemiller said.
A partial rollout happened last week, and the school had all of the iPads on hand and configured by last Thursday. But they were still waiting on the satchels.
The delay had an impact on classes.
"The kids have been very eager to get them," Dannemiller said. "My teachers had designed a lot of instruction based on using these iPads. They had to be creative on how they adjusted their instruction, which to me is a great thing.
"All of them are touched to some degree because all have a digital component," he said.
Content courses, such as language arts, math and science, had to revert back to standard textbooks and workbooks.
As for the iTech class, a mandatory new iPad course for all sixth-graders, students performed tasks for which they did not need the device. They learned about digital citizenship, going over the proper uses of the Internet. Teachers taught them about copyright laws and how it's wrong to take music without paying for it, for example. They also went over care and handling instructions.
Dannemiller said homework wasn't affected.
As the sixth-graders use the iPads for the first time, the principal acknowledged there will be hurdles.
"We're going to have problems. We know that," he said. "We're going to work through these."
One challenge the school faced at the beginning of the year was whether it would allow the devices — which cost a total of about $90,000, paid from the new school's capital budget — to be taken home. They discussed requiring insurance.
The school eventually scrapped the plan, and students must return the iPads by the end of each school day.
By January, Dannemiller said, he hopes the school will be using a cloud-based system, allowing students to work on assignments at home, assuming they have Internet access. Until then, teachers are using a free course-management system called Moodle, which allows students to access assignments from home.
Many students are better at using the new technology than some of their teachers — at least for some things.
They can zip between different applications, change settings, play games.
Where they struggle is when it comes to using the iPad as an educational tool.
"From the student's perspective, it's still a gadget," Dannemiller said. "It's a toy."
"They're not using them as a tool to learn," he said. "That's what we're teaching them."
This fall, the school is teaching the students how to use roughly a dozen new apps. They'll do everything from making posters to movies to music. It's a key part of their education.
"We're having fun with it," Mendez said. "I think it's going to be a big advantage for the students.
The students agree.
When Mendez asked them how many preferred the iPads to paper Friday morning, every hand in the room shot up.
"You're helping the environment," said 12-year-old Christian Fitzgerald.
"It's easier than getting all caught up in the paper," added Alexis Hobbs, 11. "On this, you can just scroll up."
Instead of printing out 22 copies of the story for Friday's quiz, Mendez only used a handful of sheets so students could write down their multiple choice answers.
Soon, that also might be done on the iPad.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.