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After getting the cover on her new iPad, Oltman Middle School sixth-grader Megan Switzer signs up for an Apple iTunes account with the help of her mother, Lisa, during a school meeting last week when students were issued the tablets for the coming school year. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

In their hands: District 833 rolls out student iPad program

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In their hands: District 833 rolls out student iPad program
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Last year at Park High School, Christina Craven used her personal iPad to take notes in one of her classes and was told by the teacher she could not use it.


A lot has changed in a year.

As a junior this year, Craven will take a District 833-issued iPad to all her classes, as will students at five south Washington County schools.

Craven is experienced with what an Apple iPad tablet can do from note-taking to movie-making. She'll be recording some of the lectures in her classes. When reviewing class material for tests, it's important to her that she hear the voice of the teacher to help her understand what's being taught.

Her friend, Eni Aleyah, also a junior, has no experience with the iPad she received, but has a smartphone with similar functions. Both are good students and looking forward to lighter backpacks and using less paper.

School Board members approved a three-year lease agreement for $2.6 million in June that is allowing students at Park High School, Oltman Middle School and Pullman, Crestview and Newport elementary schools to be issued their own iPad, which they can take home as well as use all day in school beginning this fall. Pre-kindergarten students will have access to district iPads as well but only in school.

The iPad program is part of the district's "T3" initiative -- transforming thinking through technology. Through the iPad initiative and other school technology programs, District 833 wants to become a regional leader in learning with technology.

The iPads are being paid for with one-time compensatory aid from the Minnesota Department of Education for schools with the highest achievement gaps, and with district funds. Money from building budgets and curriculum budgets that fund books is being used, according to Superintendent Keith Jacobus.

In addition to saving money on paper copies of lessons, announcements and worksheets, there will be a substantial savings from not buying some textbooks, according to the district.

Ninth-grade social studies textbooks are being phased out, a savings of approximately $90 per book. It takes time for the district to review the curriculum, select a publisher, get teacher reviews and purchase new books, which are on an eight-year replacement cycle.

"Why would you give social studies students an eight-year old textbook?" School Board member Tracy Brunnette asked recently.

The district is discovering other ways the technology change can save money. For instance, at a recent two-day workshop for new teachers, participants were sent information electronically, with a savings of $4,000 in printing, according to Keith Ryskoski, district assistant superintendent for secondary education.

'Open source' learning

Students will study material from "open sources" on the Internet the night before listening to their lessons the next day.

To better understand the Revolutionary War in American history, for example, a student might research essays and speeches by Thomas Paine, Jacobus said at a recent parent meeting discussing the role of technology in 21st century classrooms.

There will still be books, Oltman Principal Becky Schroeder said last Monday night when sixth-graders and their parents were given information and iPads. Students will have math books but there will also be a PDF file of the book on their iPads.

The district is asking families to insure the iPad, which is school district property, against theft and damage for $29 a year. If there is claim, the original payment is still valid for the year. Families with three or more students with iPads will pay $90 a year.

Those who decline insurance will have to pay up to $500 to replace the iPad.

To help keep iPads safe, each student was given a protective cover similar to ones used in the military.

Teachers and other educators are excited about iPad learning possibilities. Schroeder made sure Oltman teachers had iPads in March to prepare for this fall.

Chris Russell, Oltman choir director, transferred from the East Ridge High School music department to be part of the iPad revolution.

"Kids will become producers of learning, not just consumers," he told parents at an information meeting. "It's 24-7 learning."

The iPads are part of personal learning, Russell said. Kids who struggle can go slower and other students can speed up the process of acquiring knowledge.

Russell said students have no right to privacy with the iPads. Teachers and parents can check them anytime.

Russell urged parents to monitor their child's use of social media.

The district has not laid out specific plans to expand iPad distribution to other schools, but has said broadening the program to other buildings will be considered through the replacement of textbook purchases where digital content is available, teaching and learning budgets and other funding options.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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