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School Committee Wants $100k For iPads This Year [poll]

Board votes to ask High School Building Committee to fund an iPad pilot program that would begin in January.

Staying a step ahead of all the changes in computer technology is no easy task these days, but and the took a giant leap in that direction Tuesday night.

In a brief meeting held before the start of the , the school committee voted unanimously to ask the High School Building Committee to appropriate just under $100,000 to fund a pilot program to test the

O'Connor and the school committee have studied this idea for the past four months, twice holding "technology summits" where technology experts from within and outside the school department discussed the merits of moving away from a standard textbook-driven classroom and toward a digital classroom.

The focus of their studies has been Apple's iPad, a lightweight, hand held "tablet" computer developed primarily as a platform for audio-visual media including books, periodicals and movies. The iPad also offers wireless Internet access.

Tablet computers were introduced to the market less than two years ago and Apple has garnered nearly a 75 percent share of that market, by some estimates. According to the website "The Digital Home," Apple will sell over 45 million iPads in 2011, at an cost ranging from $500-800, depending on the model.

Last March, Tewksbury voters resoundingly approved a ballot initiative allowing the town to spend up to $81 million in building the new high school, which is scheduled to open in September of 2012. Among that $81 million appropriation was $1.9 million designated to outfit the new school with a state-of-the-art information technology system.

Tuesday evening, the school committee voted to ask the High School Building Committee to spend just under $100,000 of those technology funds a few months early. O'Connor and the school board want to run a pilot program, in the existing high school building, to determine how best to utilize technology in the new school building, beginning next fall.

Under the plan proposed by O'Connor, the school department would outfit four TMHS teachers with an iPad cart housing 25-30 iPad tablets. One teacher from each of the math, science, social studies and language arts departments would participate in the pilot program. Each of those educators teaches three classes daily, so the pilot program would encompass as many as 12 classes. Somewhere between 200-300 students, approximately one quarter of the school's current enrollment, would participate in the pilot program.

During the second half of the 2011-2012 program, teachers and administrators would study the effectiveness of the program so that O'Connor and the school board can determine how best to equip the new school with technology when it opens in September of 2012.

"Technology has changed just in the last two years," O'Connor said. "So I want to make sure, as we're going into the (new) building, that we're looking at technology that...functions well in an educational setting. We know how laptops work. We don't know how iPads work. So let's take a look at them."

Conceivably, there could come a day when the traditional text book is no longer a part of the Tewksbury Public School curriculum. At the two technology summits held in August and September, participants discussed the possibility of issuing "take home" iPads to every student at some point in the future, just as text books are issued today.

"Just on a personal level, having an iPad in my home, I'm amazed at some of the things that we're able to do on it," O'Connor said. "I've spent weekends just exploring, and looking at what an average math teacher would be able to do with it. And I am amazed that there isn't a topic in a math book at the high school level, that you can't find with an iPad."

Tuesday's vote authorized the school committee's representatives to the High School Building Committee, Dennis Francis and Joe Russell, to ask the building committee to fund the pilot program using part of the $1.9 million in technology funds. If the building committee agrees, the iPads will be purchased this fall and the pilot program will begin in January.

"If we can get teachers to think about using this technology, and accessing all of the information that's out there relative to their content area, I think it's a tremendous win for our students," O'Connor said.

Mary October 05, 2011 at 04:58 PM
When the participants bring the IPads home, who is responsible for any damage or loss of the unit? Are they going to collect a deposit on them? I think this may prove to be a big problem!
Melissa Gleaton October 05, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Heck no!! Apple technology changes quarterly. Huge investment for something that is going to be obsolete so quickly. That's all we need is kids tweeting on their iPads in school too.
Jade October 05, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Melissa, I totally agree with you. The IPads will not be used for the intention they are being purchased for.
RunningGreen October 05, 2011 at 06:15 PM
I have a feeling that there will be some issues with iPads, but can still see the advantages of having them in the school curriculum. How about a compromise? Maybe have iPads available for only the advanced classes (AP, for example), where the kids have a proven track record of reliability? That way the iPads can be used to advance the education of talented and reliable Tewksbury kids, while not having as much money go towards the program.
Kirsten October 05, 2011 at 11:05 PM
Middlesex Community College did a pilot program with Nursing students several years back to see how well school issued PDA's helped. I was part of this program. Many of the PDA's went unused. The cost to have our text books and all the companion books, med books, pharmacology books, reference manual after reference manual installed, was insane. Basically, you're paying twice and the programs were difficult to navigate. I'm curious about the programs they'd be utilizing on the ipads. From the article, I got the impression they were amazed by what they researched on the internet- " I am amazed that there isn't a topic in a math book at the high school level, that you can't find with an iPad." Well, unless they have downloaded a certain program they didn't mention in the article, I'm going to assume he found some great sites friendly with ipads, regarding math. That doesn't impress me. Apple has loads of applications, but when it comes to Text Book support or just e-reading, they lack greatly. Unless they were using these for a specific class with lots of downloadable FREE aids for students, I don't see how this benefits high school students.
Kirsten October 05, 2011 at 11:05 PM
There are so many learning aids online/disk/programs that could be provided to "visually" stimulate students to use on their personal computers, school computers, and installed at the library that would only be a fraction of the price of a PDA/ipad. If you didn't grasp it when you read it in your school issued text book, will you really grasp reading it from another source? The money should be invested in materials to support each style of learning/studying. Each student should be issued these visual aids via computer programs, etc, and charged at the end of the year for damage goods. It shouldn't matter what intelligence level these kids are scoring, each student would greatly gain from this. I think we'd see a big change in some students who finally "got it". If they actually started feeling impressed with themselves in school, they'd be more respectful of property and education as a whole. Regardless of a students level of education, these aids should be provided.
Shannon Scopa October 05, 2011 at 11:35 PM
If you think kids need iPads to be on Facebook and Twitter, you're mistaken. They need nothing more than a cell phone or an iPod Touch, and I've got a thousand bucks that every student in the high school has at least one (if not both) of those items. As for the pilot program "several years ago" at MCC, well, that was several years ago. The technology has changed since then. I have an e-reader and an iPad, and I can easily see how the iPad would be beneficial. There would be some logistics to work out, I'm sure, but I don't see how using technology in the classroom is in any way a bad idea. The whole world runs on technology and it's not going away. Might as well use it for our kids' advantage.
Jennifer Nagle October 06, 2011 at 12:21 AM
I agree with having the iPads available for advanced classes... not only is it a "reward" for these kids, it can be a goal for others that are not giving it their all... suddenly being book smart would be cool, or.... have each teacher fill out an "effort" report for each child... mind you, not their grade point average, but their effort.... You score high in effort, you get a school funded iPad to use, you don't, mom / dad pay for it. And, last but not least, if the school funds the iPad-ed bill, either the school should have parents purchase insurance on them or parents agree to "new purchase price" should anything happen to the iPad that it can not be repaired enough for another student to use.
Kirsten October 06, 2011 at 02:20 AM
"Several" meaning 3, was not that long ago. iPads haven't developed new program installation in this time, only new features (camera, apps, etc.). I don't believe I said technology should be removed from the classroom. You can have a smart phone, e reader, iPad, or PDA, but they don't provide all the text book companions that are typically available for text books but never supplied/utilized by teachers due to lack of resources. This was a cold fact I learned in college. To this day I think I would have exceeded my potential in high school had I known/been provided some of these resources. All I've ever known was to read my text and do workbook pages should the class actually include a workbook of some sort, but there are loads and loads of learning aids for every type of learner out there, but they cost MONEY. Money that's not within school budget. Use the money to benefit every student's learning style and have the right resources to tap into that. Provide programs including graphs or diagrams, bullet point or power point, video, etc,. It's discouraging that learning could have been much easier all throughout high school. I truly believe that's what deters people from college and lowers self esteem in general. Imagine how a high school student could soar with that info. and further their expectations with add. technology/programs that could be utilized on any computer anywhere, and at a fraction of the cost of an iPad!
Kirsten October 06, 2011 at 02:41 AM
I also believe that this should be implemented before the senior year of high school. By taking the cheaper more effective and beneficial way of learning, all the grades should have access within the budget. Statistically speaking, children soar in grade school but gradually decline in middle and high school (hence the MCAS). When a young child learn about animals, they start with reading about them. Then the do a craft (hands on approach), followed by an audiovisual- movie, field trip, music. They embrace all aspects of the subject thus drilling it into their heads. They apply these measures to all subjects (geography, math, english, principle, etc.). As time goes on, simple "kid stuff" flies out the window and students are simply drilled. Adding simplified programs of classroom material would make all avenues of learning accessible to all students-something an iPad has yet to produce. They claim they're "working on it", but they've been supposedly "working on it" since the reveal of the iPad with no results to date. I'm an avid Mac user with a MacBook Pro, iPad, iPhone, and iPod. I've been really disgruntled with the lack of progression in this department.
Tom October 06, 2011 at 03:00 AM
I think there can be a savings using eBook texts instead of real books. If that can be done, by all means, let's do it. There are cases where a planning board went all eBook and paid for all the costs with the printing costs. I also like the idea of not having 20-30 lbs of books in a kid's backpack. However! Why not Kindles? $100 each instead of $500. Even if the iPads are leased and reduced, they'll still cost more. I use iPads at work and home and had a tablet PC 5 years ago. I've been a gadget junkie and wouldn't give them up. But I don't see where and iPad or laptop is going to be worth that much more to learning then an eReader. Also, the Kindle and most other eReaders do have web browsers and can do email and other things through them. But eReading will probably be one of the chief uses.
RunningGreen October 06, 2011 at 10:25 AM
I could see the Kindles working out. Still, the advantages of the iPad is that for an e-reader, you'll still need a computer at home for word processing and there aren't apps specific to classes. I can't say whether it's worth $400, though. I could definitely see a Kindle working out, especially for English classes. Just have the books for the class pre-loaded and ready to use.
Concerned Parent October 13, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I think giving high school students iPads is a dangerous trend to set. Are we going to hold them financially responsible for loss and damage? Who in the school department will have time to track down payment when it does happen? What about theft? Also, internet access on these is a given, as well as installing games and social media. Our kids are already distracted enough I do not think we need to add to it. E-readers on the other hand I think could be a beneficial addition, I know these are already wireless to download textbooks, even rental textbooks, built in dictionaries, adjustable font sizes but without the bells and whistles and expense of an i Pad. I look sadly at the wasted money of the SmartBoards which are largely used as glorified projectors in our elementary schools and hope we can learn from that.
Shaun October 14, 2011 at 04:31 PM
I don't see the benefits of a Kindle over an iPad at all. The Kindle is a one trick pony which is great for just reading text, but the iPad with apps and web browsing can give students up to date information and multimedia on the fly. It's apples and oranges.
Kirsten October 14, 2011 at 07:13 PM
I agree with you completely about the Kindle or any e reader for that matter. I think the point was having access to multiple resources not just text reading. With this said however, I feel there are better/cheaper options out there than iPads as I mentioned above. It should be interesting to see where this goes!
Bob October 14, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Any of the eReaders have web browsing now. iPads are cost prohibitive for simple eReaders. You can get Kindles or Nooks for 1/4 the cost of the lowest priced iPad.
Shaun October 14, 2011 at 08:05 PM
They have web browsing in the same way that you would have viewed the web in 98. The iPad also has a lower cost of administration when compared to someone having to run around trying to update and administer non standard equipment. Having easy updates, easy ways of getting new media and information, and easy ways to backup, track and restore these systems is worth it.
Kirsten October 15, 2011 at 12:50 AM
A PDA would do all this at a fragment of the cost. The updates are minimal unlike the iPad because it focuses more on content and they're so easy a caveman could do it. If taught properly, students could soar with a PDA!! They'd find them far more useful in a college setting as well.

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