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At Las Vegas charter school, iPads power project-based learning

“The world has changed; the expectations in the workforce have changed,” said Abbe Mattson, EKA’s executive director. “You can’t even work at a McDonald’s without using a touch screen. … If we don’t change how we teach, it’s a disservice to our kids.”

The iSchool model

In previous years, EKA had a ratio of one computer to every two students, which proved ineffective in the academy’s project-based learning method, Mattson said. Students got distracted as they waited for their peers to finish using shared computers, she said.

In 2008, when EKA renewed its six-year charter with the School District, Mattson began working with the EKA Foundation — the five-member group appointed in 2008 that oversees the charter school — to build a high-tech school campus equipped with iPads, Macbooks, and AppleTVs on a high-speed, high-capacity network. The new school also would consolidate all the EKA students from three locations to a unified campus, Mattson said.

The EKA Foundation partnered with iSchool Campus, a Utah-based company that works with charter schools to bring Apple technology into the classroom. The company has helped Vista Academy in St. George, Utah, and Cumberland Academy in Tyler, Texas, become iSchools.

EKA’s transformation into an iSchool will be complete next month when the academy has its grand-opening celebration at its new campus near Mountain Vista Street and Russell Road.

Three vacant office buildings — victims of the recession — have been rehabilitated by builder-partners The Boyer Company and iSchools Campus into a 21st-century school. Construction at the 60,000-square-foot campus cost the foundation $6.5 million — about $820,000 of which went to the technology retrofitting. EKA has dedicated a portion of its annual budget toward iPad updates.

The technology upgrade and campus consolidation was completed in phases, with elementary schoolchildren moving to the Mountain Vista campus at the start of this school year. In January, the campus welcomed its middle and high school students. Previously, EKA students attended three campuses, at Whitney Mesa, Sandhill, and Community Lane.

After a decade, EKA finally had a single campus — complete with a playground, grass field, and state-of-the-art technology — to call its own.

“It almost seems too good to be true,” Mattson said, surveying the campus. “This facility is everything we’ve ever dreamed of. I’m so proud of this place.”

‘Like second nature to students’

In the six months since its technology infusion, EKA has become a model of what the classrooms of the 21st century might look like in Clark County.

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  1. jcbjr

    February 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    One major question is related to the inability of students to take the iPads home. I can think of a number of reasons for this related to the security and condition of them. But I also would think the homework and project work, etc. would be hampered by this decision. Are there computer-stored materials (including student work in progress files) that are available to them remotely from home?

  2. rlburtner

    February 22, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    My school, which is a private one, began a 1:1 iPad2 program last fall in grades 3-8. Students are expected to take their iPads home at night and on weekends. They probably will not be able to keep them over summer vacation. Homework is submitted via e-mail using Google Docs. Students in the upper grades love the fact that they can be in their individual homes and still collaborate on homework projects using Facetime. Each student has a unique e-mail account. Unlike previous years most homework is submitted on time. No excuse for not doing so. Students are required to come to school with a fully charged iPad. Because iPads are not charged at the school, one sync cart suffices for all of the grades. The iPads are also used to interact with our whiteboards and HD, ultra-short-throw, 16:10 ratio, video projectors using Doceri software and AppleTVs, a much less expensive technology than some of the smart interactive whiteboards.

    More recently we gave teachers in our preschool and grades K-2 iPads with which to experiment. They have begun to find creative uses for them and the many apps that are age appropriate. Although not used on a 1:1 basis, iPads are being shared for small group activities and to record video of the students that can be sent home to the parents. Because each student in these grades does not have an iPad, we have installed eBeam interactive whiteboard technology which still requires that a student or teacher interact with the board from the front of the classroom. However, it will also be possible to interact with the whiteboards from the shared iPads.

    Our biggest problem has been the thinness of the glass screens on the iPad2s. We have had several screens crack for which the parents had to pay the $100 deductible on our insurance policy that covers accidents, theft, vandalism, etc. anywhere in the world. All but one of the screens were cracked off campus and mainly by the 3rd and 4th graders. Although we have yet to install filtering software, the software that we are considering will permit us to control Internet usage off campus. Also students are not permitted to install apps that are not approved by the teachers. Students do not have the password for downloading the apps from iTunes.

    We opted to use Apple’s lease purchase plan so that the school retains ownership and control and can replace the iPads at the end of two years. Thus far we are very pleased with how our program operates.

  3. rsevilla

    March 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Great read…. we too are exploring 1:1 iPad classrooms in 10 classrooms. The teachers volunteered to be included in this pilot. We have 2 at elementary, 2 at middle school and 6 at high school. Teachers chose whether they wanted kids to have student access be 24 x 7 in a true 1:1 deployment or as a cart in the classroom… elementary chose 1:1 and a few secondary.. but many secondary are choosing to first try them as resource in the classroom and let kids sign them out nights and weekends… It has been a challenge establishing workflows when the device is shared. Obviously it is much better as a personal device, but we are still moving ahead! We use WebDav and Dropbox mostly for storage. We have quite a few IWBs in our schools and I too see much, but definitely not all, capabilities from iPad to projector through AppleTV/AirPlay and software like Doceri or Splashtop fitting the needs of many teachers. It is not an apples to apples comparison by any stretch, but an IWB with the pricetag attached really takes the commitment of the teachers to use it in ways that provides real return on investment. We are exploring the HMH Fuse Algebra text and students are using the iPads as content creation tools using Pages, Keynote, Evernote, and many others. One of the issues we are trying to solve now is how to take student produced media and publish it to a blog or wiki so others can view and comment on the work – give the work “wings” and use the web as the new “refrigerator” to post to. Because the iPad seems to lack a browseable file structure, many tools like Wikispaces and blogs can’t seem to “attach” rich media to a post. They have been great tools to extend the walls of the classroom and allow kids to communicate and collaborate with others. Teachers report higher levels of engagement and willingness to write, revise, rewrite and share their work. Does anyone have a specific HDMI ultrashort throw, wall-mounted projector and sound solution you can recommend? –Roger Ithaca, NY