At Las Vegas charter school, iPads power project-based learning
That will come with time, Mattson said. In the past, the charter school has never had those luxuries — staples in traditional public schools. EKA has used online resources, and now iPads, to supplant library books and science materials.
Managing the technology
Each EKA student has a Wi-Fi-enabled iPad 2 tablet with 16 gigabytes of memory. The iPads are charged and synced on 26 digital carts. Six AppleTVs allow teachers to beam websites and digital slideshows from their iPads to TV screens. A system of servers and a firewall-protected Wi-Fi network supports all of it.
Students pay an annual technology fee — between $40 and $50 — to use the iPads, which remain on campus at all times. Scholarships are available for families who cannot afford the fee, which covers the cost of broken or lost iPads. So far, EKA has had one iPad broken, two iPads found defective, and no iPads lost.
Starting in second grade, students are assigned EKA eMail addresses to send assignments to teachers. iPads and eMail accounts are monitored by school officials for cyber bullying and inappropriate content, Mattson said.
Students sign contracts stating the iPads will be used only for educational purposes; anyone caught playing games has their iPad privileges revoked. Teachers have learned to conduct random checks to ensure students remain on task.
Despite initial concerns, incidents of students misusing technology have been minimal, Mattson said. There was one incidence of cyber bullying, which the school used as a learning opportunity for other students, she said. Cheating is almost nonexistent, as quizzes and tests at EKA are designed to gauge whether students truly understand the concepts, not if they are able to regurgitate facts.
“Nothing on these iPads will give them the concepts,” Mattson said. “I don’t want [students] to memorize facts, because it’ll always be at their fingertips. The idea is to use their knowledge to interpret it and put it all together.”
Results are promising, but still unclear
Educators say the potential payoff of this digital education is enormous, even though it’s still unproven if this nascent technology will increase student achievement. Educational games and visual applications attempt to make learning fun and keep students’ attention, which should translate to better test scores, teachers say.