Bugg Elementary principal Michael Armstrong had a thought after watching his son with an iPad -- what would it mean to his elementary school students if they had iPads as well?
His school, located in East Raleigh, had some of Wake County's lowest end-of-grade test scores. About 70 percent of his students were below the poverty level, and many lacked access to computers.
But Armstrong launched an initiative to twin technology with learning; with all third graders getting access to iPads starting in the fall of 2011.
"We gave them to them with the commitment that they would have them for three years," Armstrong said.
The turnaround, Armstrong says, has been dramatic. Students use their iPads for research, and fourth graders -- who started receiving iPads this year -- recently took the tablets outside to take pictures of a dry creek as part of their research on a drought.
Even in physical education class, Bugg teacher Jessica Hook had an idea about having the students use iPads to make their own exercise videos.
"We really wanted to create videos that the kids could see themselves using," Hook said.
Now the students shoot the video, edit it and post it on the Web. They even make their own QR code to access it.
Suddenly a group not accustomed to technology is pretty tech savvy -- and pretty happy to have learned all this.
"It's actually fun because we get to use the iPad," one student said.
Hook is thrilled to have the iPads in her class and quickly ticks off the benefits of having them available.
"It's created eight teachers for them, and it's freed me from delivering instruction so that I can literally go around and give feedback," Hook said. "There are, like, 12 of me in here now."
Armstrong said the results have been encouraging, with positive improvement in test scores and a decline in behavior issues.
Bugg began using iPads on a one-to-one basis with third graders for the 2011-12 school year.
On the end-of-grade tests for 2011, the year before the iPad use began, 46.2 percent of third-graders at Bugg scored at or above grade level for reading, and 67.0 percent scored at or above grade level for math.
Only three Wake County elementary schools had lower scores for reading in the third grade.
On the EOG tests for 2012, those numbers for Bugg third-graders jumped to 62.4 percent for reading and 81.7 percent for math.
On the reading score, Bugg placed higher than 18 other Wake County elementary schools.
When asked why the scores have jumped, Armstrong said, "Because students are engaged."
Visit the classrooms at Bugg and you'll notice that even fourth graders can be remarkably quiet as they work with their iPads.
But is there a downside? Perhaps.
"For some things, technology is just a pacifier," said Elizabeth Gilleland, the head of The Raleigh School, who has degrees in early childhood elementary education and developmental psychology. "Just because they are quiet doesn't mean they are learning better."
Technology, she said, is "great if used effectively." She acknowledges learning through technology has promise, but believes schools should proceed with caution.
"I find it both promising and worrisome, having everything that happens at a school have a screen between you and me," Gilleland said. "When you take the physical process out of that, and make it virtual and two-dimensional, the learning doesn't happen as well that way.
"That's well-documented. There is plenty of research on how children need to be physically involved with their learning."
To Gilleland, children need to use their bodies, minds and hands, and be fully engaged.
Bugg's Armstrong said his students don't just stare at the iPad all day -- they write, they do math, all on paper. But everyone is still asking the big question: How long will that be the way they learn?