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Schools Learning To Teach In A Touch Screen World

Schools across the country are starting to buy laptops and tablets for students. Apple says it has sold at least 4.5 million iPads to U.S. schools.

The vast Los Angeles Unified School District is dealing with problems from its billion-dollar tablet purchase.

Schools in the Northwest have a variety of approaches.  Rob Manning looks at this question: if districts buy tablets – should students take them home, or leave them in class?

Anxious 11 and 12 year-olds are in line in the library at Vancouver’s Alki Middle School. They’re about to get iPads they can take home with them.

Vancouver District technology director, Mark Ray deals out iPads to anxious students.

Vancouver District technology director, Mark Ray deals out iPads to anxious students.

Rob Manning/OPB

District technology director, Mark Ray, has a stack of iPads next to him. He asks students to type in their ID numbers. It’s a simple request, but the excitement of getting an iPad has some kids fumbling over the keypad.

Before the 6th grade boys and girls can use their iPads, they get a quick “how-to” from Instructional Technology facilitator Laura Day. She tells kids to be careful with the iPad and with the security pass code that locks it.

“You will need to remember that pass code for ever! Because if you forget it, and it locks you out, the only way to get unlocked is for Mrs. Binkowski to have to clear your iPad, which gets rid of all your school work. Which would be a huge bummer,” Day tells the students.

Instructional technology facilitator for Vancouver Public Schools, Sally Kroon, explains to students how to set up their iPads.

Instructional technology facilitator for Vancouver Public Schools, Sally Kroon, explains to students how to set up their iPads.

Rob Manning/OPB

Vancouver bought 2000 iPads primarily for middle school students. The district tried out some iPads last school year.
Middle school teacher Sally Kroon saw the change immediately.

“Right away, I had students who normally would grumble, and whine - and it would kind of be pulling teeth to get them to write with their pencil and paper, and the willingness to be able to do that on the iPad, was dramatic,” she says. “It was such a drastic change, and you found that students were producing more writing, were more willing to do simple things like note-taking.”

Teachers on the Oregon side of the Columbia like what they’re seeing from tablet technology, as well.

But not every district is taking the same approach.

Look at the Southeast Portland school district of David Douglas, for example.

The district has spent more than a million dollars to put iPad minis in specific classrooms.

More than 600 of them are in science and social studies classes at Alice Ott Middle School. That’s almost one for every student. But the principal James Johnston prefers keeping the mini-tablets at school.

Alice Ott Middle School principal James Johnston

Alice Ott Middle School principal James Johnston

Rob Manning/OPB

“You know I think it’s a good decision because of the cost, and because we don’t know the glitches.” Johnston says he wouldn’t want David Douglas to repeat the mistakes of LA Unified.

“I’ve been reading about Los Angeles, you know, a billion dollar purchase and now kids are finding a way to hack — there’s some dangers when you don’t have infrastructure to protect middle school kids — the things they can log into, the text messaging, the Facebook … The fact that they stay in the building mitigates some of those risks,” Johnston says.

Educators who favor having students bring the devices home say it levels the playing field for children from families who can’t afford devices.

Teachers, like Rick Thames at Alice Ott, say that’s not a big issue. Thames estimates there are two or three students without Internet access at home in each class.

“The rest of them do, so it’s not a huge problem. Then I make sure to get priority to those students who don’t have access to be able to use the iPads during homeroom time. They’ve been doing pretty well with it, they’re responsible, and they just get their time in, during that time,” Thames says.

Responsibility is a theme for students in Vancouver, as well.

School administrators often worry that students will lose or damage their iPads, but 6th grade students, like Annabel Madarang see care for the iPads as a test of their responsibility.

“Well, basically, we’re trusted with a lot more. Instead of like, ‘well, you can use this, but you have to stay here, where we can watch you,’ ” Madarang says.

Care for the devices is the family’s responsibility in Vancouver. Parents can buy insurance to reduce the potential replacement cost, and Vancouver school officials say many have done that.

The district says in the first month and a half of school, eight iPads have been damaged, and one’s been lost. That’s out of 2000 new tablets in Vancouver.

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