The district will take its first steps towards becoming a ‘one student, one device’ district this year by rolling out iPads for teachers and kids.
By Matt Skoufalos
When Haddon Township schoolteachers opened their classrooms this year, each did so with a new iPad4 in hand.
By October, every student in grades three through 12 will follow suit, as the district rolls out its new one-to-one technology initiative.
The move is a two-birds-one-stone decision, said Superintendent Nancy Ward.
Creating a network of student tablets not only helps support the digital literacy initiatives that are commonly valued as part of a 21st-century classroom, but it helps set the stage for the state-mandated PARCC standardized testing, which is web-based.
What is less clear is the impact of more “screen time” for students, many of whom already interact daily with a variety of electronic platforms, from smartphones to tablets to desktops, laptops, televisions, and gaming consoles.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids average seven hours a day of entertainment media. The AAP encourages parents to offer “educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers and board games,” “establish ‘screen-free’ zones at home,” including children’s bedrooms, and to keep children younger than two away from television and entertainment media entirely.
But to Ward, students are already online and playing with digital devices whether their teachers, parents, or pediatricians like it or not. If schools don’t get in on the act, she said, they’re missing an opportunity to direct the conversations that need to happen around technology.
“Kids power down when they come to school,” Ward said. “They’re powered up outside of school. We love to teach the way kids learn.
“Information literacy is critical,” she said, “and one of the things we have to teach on electronic devices is how to sift through, and to learn what is and what is not quality.”
An opportunity to engage
Last year, seven pilot programs that focused on tablet computing were launched in every school in the district. Teachers in third through sixth grades as well as in high school art classes participated in the project with positive results, Ward said.
“Children who were not comfortable writers began to write so much more,” she said. “Children who were not comfortable with math were drawn in by the different games.
“There are kids who are just more engaged and more likely to interact with this device,” she said.
“While we can look at printed research, observational or anecdotal research is more salient based on what we see kids doing.”
Ward also acknowledged that children benefit from a balanced learning experience, and that she would want students to enjoy “opportunities to explore the world outside of an electronic experience.
“I look at it as an opportunity for students to engage their natural curiosity and exploratory desires,” Ward said.
“You use that [device]to give yourself information so that you can have a better-informed experience when you do the thing or learn about the thing on your own.”
A first step
Haddon Township is not only district in the region to move to a one-to-one device plan for its students.
This year, Collingswood schools will begin phasing in take-home Google Chromebooks for its students with the intention of distributing one to every middle- and high-school student in the district within three years. Ward said that Haddon Township considered Chromebooks as well, but leaned on an existing relationship with its representatives from Apple to broker the deal.
At around $399 apiece, the 16GB iPad4 devices will come with a damage-resistant Dux case and keyboard. The district will self-insure the tablets, which have a three-to-four-year lifespan, Ward said. Even by leasing 1,700 units at that price, their estimated, $678,000 cost is less than half of what the district had budgeted for technology, she said.
“Leasing is a good option because you keep that amount in your budget annually, and you just replenish [it],” she said. “We had budgeted a big chunk for technology because we knew we were going to need it. By leasing we got three times as many computers for about half the price.”
When the devices approach the end of their useful lives, Ward said, the district is likely to purchase higher-memory versions in order to begin migrating curriculum to online textbooks, likely beginning with novels.
For now, the district is compiling a core base of universal applications for every student to use. Nothing beyond the core set of software will be added until it is validated by a teacher committee and school principals, and receives approval from the Haddon Township Board of Education.
Teachers are being supported in the iPad roll-out by an in-house technology team, peer facilitators, and professional development hours, Ward said.
Parents will be involved in the process, too. The district will hold information sessions in the coming weeks for starters; plus, a parent’s e-mail address is required to get an Apple ID for students under the age of 13. None of the homework assignments related to the iPad will be Internet-reliant to start, Ward said.
She also believes the tablets will offer a chance for the district to help promote “a type of etiquette that’s appropriate in communication and a type of respect that’s appropriate in communication,” particularly in social media.
“It’s out there anyway,” Ward said. “I’d rather teach them how to use it right.”