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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.

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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