Paper and pencils appear on every back-to-school shopping list this fall, but students and teachers may watch their classrooms go digital in the coming years.
Both Frankfort Independent and Franklin County Public Schools plan to introduce laptops, iPads and iPods to their classrooms this fall in a series of pilot projects to gauge the possibility of giving a device to every student in the future.
The practice of providing a laptop or tablet computer to each student – commonly called a “one-to-one” initiative – is growing in popularity across Kentucky and the nation.
All 1,200 students at nearby Woodford County High School will get an iPad this year to use during the school day and take home at night.
District officials had considered purchasing laptops for students in the past, but they worried the devices would be too heavy and have a short battery life, said Greg French, director of technology for the district.
“When mobile devices started coming out, that really got us interested in the implications for the classroom,” he said.
“We had students with better devices in their pockets than we were offering them at school.”
Schools expand Wi-Fi to support more devices
Franklin County Public Schools are asking kids to BYOD – bring your own device.
Technicians installed more than 100 new access points at the four middle and high schools and 50 at the elementary schools to make the school district completely wireless.
Students, teachers and guests will be able to access wireless Internet from their personal iPods, tablets and laptops.
Before the upgrades, students could only access the wireless network near offices and conference rooms. It was worse than spotty cell phone service, said Jimmy Pack, district technology director.
Now there will be coverage in every classroom.
“We’ve purchased about 50 iPads in the last year, but they weren’t always online,” he said. “They couldn’t use them in the classroom in the way they would have liked.”
Pack estimates a one-to-one initiative with iPads for the 1,500 high schoolers in Franklin County would cost about $750,000. That’s not an option right now, Pack says, so BYOD is the next best thing.
“With our current budget, there’s no way that we can go one-to-one, so the first step in getting more technology was providing access no matter where we are.”
The Board of Education allocated $238,000 for the wireless expansion and upgrades in May.
Students could use their devices to record audio or video of lectures, take photos or create presentations about their field trips.
Laptops will be available for kids who don’t have their own mobile devices, Pack says, though they probably won’t be able to take them home yet.
The school district plans to complete a state-required survey this fall that measures how many kids have computers and Internet access at home. But it doesn’t address devices like iPhones, which kids can use to get online.
“Most research says that the majority of kids at the high school age have some sort of device that gets online, regardless of income,” he said.
Frankfort High School will launch a pilot this year with 20 netbooks – tiny, low-cost laptops – and 10 each of iPads and Android tablets. Four teachers will incorporate the technology in their daily lesson plans.
The goal is to determine which device works best in the classroom, said Tim Smith, chief information officer for Frankfort Independent Schools.
But FHS wasn’t wired to handle the new devices. The school district spent $92,000 on technology last year, including upgrades to its wireless network.
The updates included 65 new wireless access points throughout the district and a security switch to monitor the websites students visit for inappropriate content. The changes were in place by late June.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to a one-to-one initiative is the cost.
Smith estimates that it would cost Frankfort Independent $35,000 to $40,000 a year to outfit the district’s 240 high school students with devices. That cost would also cover repairs, tech support and training for teachers, Smith says.
The district has a total budget of about $8 million. Smith hopes to have a proposal ready for the school board by early spring for implementation next fall.
Nearby Woodford County Schools are a step ahead, with plans to hand iPads to all high schoolers next month.
With only a handful of computer labs at WCHS, students didn’t have easy access to technology in the past, said French, the technology director.
District officials researched one-to-one initiatives in Kentucky and across the nation before implementing a pilot project last year, said French, the technology director.
Four teachers – none of whom wanted to use iPads in the classroom – incorporated them into their lessons every day. French says they now embrace the technology.
“The first thing we noticed was that the teachers’ opinions before using the devices was different than once they tried them,” he said.
The Woodford County Board of Education allocated $700,000 in May to purchase the 1,200 iPads at about $550 each, French said. Board members plan to spend $125,000 a year after that to maintain the program.
The money came from three sources – textbooks, student fees and the general fund.
“We feel like the upfront money is going to pay off,” French said.
Teens pay an insurance fee to take the iPads home, and deductibles cover repairs. For example, a student who broke the screen would pay $50 to repair it, instead of being responsible for the full cost of replacement.
The school district is examining pilot projects for students in the lower grades, though French says those devices would likely stay at school instead of going home with students.
Expanded learning opportunities
Frankfort Independent’s Smith says students will use their devices to find information at a moment’s notice, do research, watch science simulations, stream videos and access research databases.
Teachers will have to adjust their lessons to ask open-ended questions instead of fill-in-the-blank, but Smith says that leads to greater learning and information retention.
“All this is about teaching and learning,” he said, especially learning to use technology that will help graduates in college and the workplace.
“They key is giving students open-ended type work. You have to make sure the teaching and learning flows naturally with the devices.”
Students can have access to tools that help them speak, write, hear and process information. Kids in the 21st century learn differently than their parents, he said.
“If we’re just lecturing and talking to students, we’re missing a wide range of content,” he said. “It’s not about regurgitating information – it’s about synthesizing and analyzing it.”
Pack says one Franklin County elementary school teacher wants to record podcasts. Students could also record lectures to refer to during homework sessions, or to show their parents what they are working on in class, he said.
French, with Woodford County, says teachers can load assignments, videos and quizzes into Moodle – an online learning management system – before class starts, so kids are ready to go when the bell rings.
They will be able to access those resources at home too. That will help students who need to watch a video or review other material several times to understand, he said.
“It creates a differentiated, self-paced learning environment,” French said. “What we found out (with the pilot) is that the kids didn’t feel like they were targeted in any way.”
Central Kentucky isn’t alone in experimenting with tablets and handheld devices.
The Virginia Department of Education is in the second phase pilot program to use iPads in a new social studies curriculum, and 23 Chicago schools are experimenting with classroom sets of the device, EdWeek reported last month.
The iPads cropping up in classrooms in Irving, Texas, Long Island, N.Y., and just outside Washington D.C. in Aldelpi, Md.
The New York Times has reported that six middle schools in four California cities are teaching the first iPad-only algebra course, and even kindergarteners are using the devices in Scottsdale, Ariz.
But with the expansion of technology options comes new rules. Pack says FCPS must work with the board attorney and the Kentucky School Boards Association to determine what new policies and procedures are needed.
“(Teachers) like the idea of having access, but they are concerned – and reasonably so – about how to manage it, whose responsible,” he said.“You have to look at what happens when it’s lost, when it’s broken, when it’s stolen, who works on it? What can you do if a student’s misbehaving? Can you look at their phone and pull up the websites they’ve visited and look at their texting? What are the limits there?”
Pack is researching resources to help teachers handle the change. Teachers could ask students to place their device at the top of their desk when not in use, for example, making it easier to spot who isn’t on task.
“We want the teachers to understand that it’s about classroom management, just like any other tool they have at their use, whether it’s a calculator, a notebook, a pen or pencil,” he said.
Woodford County’s French says if students misuse their iPads, teachers and administrators could take away certain privileges on it, like use of the camera or access to the app store.
“I do think it changes classroom management,” he said. “Kids have always doodled – now they just doodle on an iPad.”
Taylor Marshall, an English teacher at Frankfort High School, tested the concept in his classroom last year.
He allowed his students to bring their iPads, Android tablets and iPods from home, and they used them to research authors, organize their assignments and take online quizzes – submitting their answers via text message.
“It’s a neat thing – much different than when I was in school,” Marshall, 30, said with a laugh. “I use my iPhone for everything, so I allowed them to do that and encouraged them to do that. I use technology in my classroom as much as I can.”
Marshall concedes that handheld technology can distract students at times, but he says wandering minds aren’t new to high schools by any means.
Today’s texting is yesterday’s passing notes, and Marshall thinks the benefits of having digital resources at hand outweighs the downsides.
It’s up to the classroom teacher to explain how to best use technology and enforce boundaries with students, he said.
“It’s teaching them by modeling what they can and cannot do, and making those boundaries very specific and clear,” he said.
“You have to be consistent in the way that you use technology, and establish patterns with the gadgets so they know what’s coming next.”
Marshall says about 75 percent of the kids in his English classes last year had access to handheld devices.
In his biggest class of 24 students, six kids were without one. Those students used classroom computers, school laptops or shared devices with their classmates, he said.
Marshall says his students are fascinated with iPads in particular. Others were surprised about how much their iPods could do, aside from playing music and games.
“One of the big questions for teachers is how do you engage high school kids in their education?” Marshall said. “I think any kind of niche area that you can use to get them focused and engaged is beneficial.”