4th Grade One:One Pilot Project – Update and Letter to the editor (Updated)

by beth on October 2, 2013

In June, I reported that Neary School was working to develop a One:One Technology Pilot for 4th grade this year. At the time, there were a lot of unanswered questions including what kind of technology would be used and who would be responsible for it.

Parents received answers last week, and not all of them are happy about it. (Be sure to read the letter to editor below.)

On September 24, Neary held a meeting to inform parents about the program and answer questions. As a follow up, they sent e-mails to parents with an explanation and attached notes from the meeting. (Here are links to the message and notes.)

Principal Linda Murdock announced her intention to launch the initiative this January. She is encouraging parents to purchase an iPad for each 4th grade student (minimum of iPad2, 32 GB recommended) at a cost estimated between $550 – $700. There is an offer that families that can’t afford it can “contact the principal and provide information as to financial need, and we will try to help”.

The purchase is not mandatory. Students whose families opt out will have access to iPads at school during the day.

Some parents who would like to opt out are concerned about the impact that would have on their children if most of their class is utilizing resources they don’t have.

And this isn’t envisioned to be a one year program. Notes from the meeting state, “If the project is successful, we expect that students will continue using their iPads at least through middle school.”

Below is a letter from one concerned mother. But, as evidenced by the comments posted to her Facebook page, she represents many.

That doesn’t mean she represents all parents’ views. After all, the pilot comes out the Technology Advisory Commitee, which apparently includes some parents from our district.

So I’d like to hear from other parents.

Are you excited about the pilot? Or are you also wary/upset?

Updated (10/2/13 8:48 pm): Neary shared a link to the pilot information page on Facebook.

Letter to the Editor: Neary iPad pilot

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

I have been encouraged by other parents in town to present my thoughts on the new, controversial iPad Pilot Project to launch in January 2014 at Neary School.

This week it was announced that 4th grade students at Neary School will be participating in a pilot project involving the use of iPads in the classroom and at home at a mere cost of $550-$700 per child—an expensive “school supply”.

If successful, the plan is to roll out the project to all grades including younger grades. Please know, I am by no means anti-iPad or anti-technology. As a mother of four boys, I strive to maintain a balance of keeping them active vs. screen time.

The main issues I see with the iPad pilot project are as follows:

1. The children are too young for this project. Junior high is a more appropriate age, as per a Southborough librarian. The thought of rolling it out to younger grades is even more disconcerting;

2. Not enough pen to paper as it is–they still cannot write fluently. It is Oct. 1st and the kids have yet to come home with one hand writing assignment. Let’s nail down the basics first;

3. Unaffordability factor, (singling out/isolating children who cannot afford it, although stated they can borrow the school’s iPads, I believe it will create a social stigma when a child doesn’t own one as evident on school bus rides, etc.); If the school wants to take on this project, the school should fund it or fundraise for it; 

4. Too much screen time as it is affecting children’s mental and physical health;

5. By imposing the use of the iPads at home, the school is controlling the amount of technology our children are exposed to rather than us as parents, compromising our family values of limiting electronics; and,

6. Logistics–our children lose water bottles, lunch boxes and sweatshirts. They are too young to be responsible for an expensive piece of equipment in transit. Do you think we will find it in the lost and found?

A pilot project often involves a sample of a larger population. Why not use the school’s iPads and approach one classroom at a time, keeping the iPads on school property at all times? Why not make it a special just like the computer lab?

I was told by the school principal, the cost to the family is about the same as a musical instrument. In my opinion, that is not a fair comparison and in a totally different category altogether. The children already have access to technology at school on computers, electronic white boards, etc. Besides, musical instruments do not change over time. Technology does and rather quickly.

Although it is difficult to come forward with a potentially unpopular, non-mainstream view, I have been encouraged by approximately 20 other families asking the same questions. As one mother and teacher pointed out to me, we are the only industrialized nation whose performance is going down each year vs. up. Technology has its value, but let’s nail the basics first, such as handwriting.

What am I asking for:

1. An all-school parent meeting to thrash this out;

2. A plan to fund whatever project is agreed upon, eliminating the burden on the families; and,

3. A vote among all parents of all school-age children.

Thank you!

Fiona Maguire-O’Shea

1 removed October 2, 2013 at 7:33 PM

Removed at request of commenter

2 Carrie October 2, 2013 at 9:02 PM

I am not a parent included in the “pilot study” as I have a 5th and 8th grader. I would much rather see a pilot for the 8th graders to “rent to own” Mac laptops that they then can take with them to high school.

Allowing 8th graders to rent to own computers elevates them as “older middlers” giving them the feeling that they are soon to transition to high school.

i think that it is really wonderful that the parents can be part of the dialogue in a healthy way as we all recognize how important technology is as a tool in educating our kids.

3 P. M. October 3, 2013 at 12:17 PM

I completely agree! 8th grade is the correct place to make this pilot. Our computer education in the middle school is not strong and it needs to be. Students only have one class on computers in the 6th grade and it focuses on touch typing and doing more word processing and presentations that they have already done.

In my opinion, to truly get kids understanding how computers can be used in their future they need to be taught how to create and produce content, not just be consumers of existing apps. For example, let’s teach them to create documentaries in iMovie, create accompanying songs in Garage Band, create websites that showcase their work (on-line portfolios), use excel to meaningfully analyze data, learn some introductory programming so they can create educational games based on a subject they are learning or to create educational apps for the younger kids to use. Then let them bring these laptops home and continue this creative and engaging work at home as well.

4 Neary Parent October 2, 2013 at 9:10 PM

I am not currently the parent of a fourth grade student, but my now-fifth grader was in a class that used iPads extensively last year and I think it was done very well and was of great benefit to the kids. Even as a little-to-no-screen-time-allowed family I am supportive of the concept. The ability to differentiate education and let kids go at their own pace is huge, and this kind of program facilitates that. The “message” and “notes” put out by the school seem to address many of the (very valid) concerns raised. The insurance in particular is a must – some amount of damage and loss seems a given at this age. It sounds like it was a well-thought-out process and no result would please everyone. The challenge I see – and it is not at all minor – is the cost. We have multiple kids in the district and I have absolutely no idea where we would find $800 per child for iPads should this be extended to other grades – as it should be, if the pilot is successful. The instrument comparison doesn’t help – instruments are truly optional, aren’t for every kid, and aren’t going to go away because the cost of an iPad has been added to the mix. Logically I know there is no way the school could allocate budget money to cover all costs (think of the posts…), but I would hope financial aid would be available for anyone who needs it, preferably via a more standardized, form-based method than “call the office” (which many would be embarrassed to do). And/or kids who can’t/don’t own an iPad should be able to pick one up upon entering the classroom in the morning and treat it like their own for all of every day, thus minimizing any potential stigma. So yes, the cost is rough and I hate that part of it – but I’ve seen the concept in action and it really can be done well.

5 Cynthia Moore October 2, 2013 at 10:28 PM

I wonder if equal access to education will be delivered in a model where only some children have access to an iPad during the day but not when homework is required. The value propositions in the presentation included:

“Learning can continue 24/7; Students can engage in learning in a personal, self-directed manner, at an appropriate level of challenge; Parents can be true partners in their child’s learning – projects on the iPad are available at home and at school”

How will this be achieved when you are a family that can neither afford nor perhaps want the technology in the home? What about the transitional (homeless) students who are placed in district temporarily? It’s wondering to imagine that financial aide will be available to those in need. It’s hard to believe it is reality when teachers are still self-funding their own classrooms.

6 Fly on the Wall October 3, 2013 at 6:24 AM

I completely agree with the letter posted above……completely. iPads in the hands of 4th graders isn’t going to advance our place in the race for technological advancement. First of all they are already on them at home and most are pretty savvy users. What they need to be savvy about is reading and writing, period. The schools already expect us to spend a small fortune every year on school supplies, tissue, hand wipes, etc. We will raise a generation of students who are computer savvy yet can’t put a thought together to write a decent college application essay or a cover letter for a resume.

7 Yvonne Enrique October 3, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Ok for starters, for a school system that sends home papers, papers and more papers home in school bags need to get more on board with the email system… There’s 21st century technology for you. There was a big focus on “purchasing an Ipad” but the big miss was not communicating which APPS they were going to use, the success rate and stories from other schools, why this is going to work, and how this is going to work. What are the fails from other schools? Maybe as parents we can try out the APPS ourselves before they launch this program. Also, I don’t agree with transporting these things back and forth from school. I just don’t think the kids are mature enough to carry such expensive breakable items. Having 2 ipads at home that rarely ever left the house are both CRACKED. Big projects like this that require big money may want to visit kickstarter.com and try to raise money for monetary relief. Whatever happened to keyboarding 101? Shouldn’t these kids learn how to type properly before introducing the peck method? Learn how to graph and write a formula on excel? Also, what’s next? Buying an airprint printer for the ipad? imessaging with friends? Facetime?

8 TheNewNormal October 3, 2013 at 8:49 AM

While the 1:1 program is a good idea in spirit, I am not convinced that the school has really thought through how to incorporate this in the curriculum.

My questions are:
How is this going to help the kids learn?
Who is going to install and manage parental controls?
Who is going to prevent everyone from playing Angry Birds or Minecraft in class?

In addition to the issues above, I view the iPad as primarily a consumption device. None of us are going to sit down and willingly type a report or proposal on an iPad vs. a real keyboard on a Mac or PC. How will they learn to type or use a real keyboard?

This program does not even begin to consider how we are significantly limiting creativity in our children by saying “everyone complete your project by using a specific app on the iPad” What if we have a different idea? What if our ideas don’t fit with the goals of the app designer? Are we now outsourcing our children’s education to app developers?

Technology in schools is very important and I support technology programs with my wallet but this 1:1 program needs a lot more planning before we move forward.

9 Fiona October 3, 2013 at 9:43 AM

This just in from Principal Murdock: “In terms of a parent meeting and a parent vote, I don’t believe that would be appropriate, for a couple of reasons. First of all, overall governance of the schools is done by the school committee, whose members are elected by the townspeople, and school decisions regarding curriculum and instruction are reviewed by school committee, but not put to a popular vote. As you know, the school committee is aware of this project and it has been discussed at the last three school committee meetings, two last spring and at the first one this fall. You can certainly talk with the school committee members and let them know your concerns, but I think the decision-making has to stay with the school committee.”

10 Educator but not in Southborough October 3, 2013 at 12:07 PM

I am disappointed in Principal Murdock’s response but not surprised by it. When my child was placed (without my input or knowledge it existed) in an open classroom with 40 kids in it, I immediately (June 21) wanted my child moved to a traditional class and was effectively told that I had no choice. It was an awful year.

As an educator who took a course specifically on integrating technology on a wide-scale in schools, her approach is the complete opposite to standard, successful practice. Recommended practice states that parents (as well as the school board and all other stakeholders) need to be kept informed of these changes, their voices should be heard, and the school should work on “buy-in” not pushing something on us.

11 SBoro parent October 3, 2013 at 12:24 PM

That does not seem adequate.

12 Jerry Capra October 3, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Fiona, and others;

Please come to the next School Committee meeting (Oct 9, 6:30 at Trottier library) so we can discuss these issues. Your attendance would be very much appreciated.

The dialog on this subject, up to this point, has been very helpful and I would like to keep it that way. Your suggestions will not be ignored, and parental support is required if we are to continue forward with this program.

Thanks, and I hope to see you Wednesday.

Jerry Capra

Southborough K-8 School Committee

13 John Butler October 4, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Fiona and concerned parents,

I would not discourage you from going to a School Committee Meeting but be aware that the School Committee, unique among Town committees that I am aware of, will not engage in any discussion with you at one of their meetings. They will listen, but not engage in dialog. It is against their rules, or at least has been in recent years. Now that they want to control the parents reaction, they may selectively decide to relax this rule. One solution that is available, however, and we have used, is to call your own meeting, at the library who will provide free space, and invite them to your meeting to avoid this problem. You may find that more satisfactory.

On the fundamentals, I’m with Al Hamilton on this. If it is needed, then it should have public funding. Think for a minute about the family of three whose youngest is in 4th grade, whose older children have been asking for one of these, whose parents feel they can’t afford one, and have been denying the older children. Are they supposed to buy three? Think about the parents of twins. Think about the child who doesn’t want to say “I can’t work on this at home because I don’t own the ipad I’m using here.” Think about the bus ride for that child. “Lets work on the project after school. Oh I forgot you don’t have an Ipad. Well, I’ll work with Sam then.” It would be easy for affluent parents to appear to overrule the needs of a minority that is naturally reluctant to speak up. That is the big risk with any meeting, with or without the school committee. People need to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. People need to imagine what pain this may cause even if they can easily afford it for themselves.

14 SBoro parent October 5, 2013 at 11:06 AM

John, this really sums things up in my view. Completely agree.

15 Al Hamilton October 3, 2013 at 3:53 PM

I don’t have a feeling one way or the other on the educational merits of the program. I assume it was proposed with the best of intentions.

However, I think the proposition has some troubling aspects. Since the mid 17th century we have had compulsory schooling (at least for boys), in Mass. For almost all of that time the cost of providing a quality education has been born by the citizens of the town. In effect we have had equal access for all (more or less) to a quality program.

This program seems to be a departure from that proud tradition. We will now have “Ipad haves and “Ipad have nots” in our 4th grand and will expect 4 grade parents to pick up a non trivial part of the tab for the basic education which heretofore had been provided by the community.

I am a bit surprised that the School Committee has not taken a formal position on this given that the Principle has decided to impose these costs on parents. This seems like the exact sort of education policy decision that we elect the School Committee to make.

I, for one, think that if Ipads for 4th graders are critical to providing them a high quality education then we should bear the cost and the schools should provide them out of its budget. The School Committees have great flexibility in how they spend the millions of tax dollars that the community provides, far more flexibility than the BOS has.

Our community has a track record of great generosity in funding school budgets. It also has a history of supporting technology spending in the schools. Until recently technology spending in the schools was funded separately from the operating budget to the tune of about $150,000 per year. Perhaps that practice should be reinstated to make sure we are really funding technology.

If this program is critical to education, the School Committee should vote for it and should budget for it and make its case to Town Meeting which has been generous to a fault in the past with regard to school funding.

What we should not do is set up a system where some children are relegated to second class status based on their parents ability to pay for an expensive piece of technology. We must strive to make sure that the same public educational opportunities are available to all regardless of their parents ability to pay.

16 SB Resident October 3, 2013 at 3:56 PM

I also completely agree with the letter to the editor. This is obviously not as thought out as the committee thinks it is. The problem with a technology committee is that it is composed of members who support the concept already, so obviously not enough thought has been put into the downsides. Just google “L.A. Ipad” and you’ll see what a boondoggle this can become.

I’d also like to stress the importance of point 3 in the letter. Singling out the kids who can’t afford it is simply atrocious. I’m truly saddened that the leaders in the district aren’t more compassionate regarding this.

My family is an Android/Windows family. We have several windows laptops, android tablets and android phones, and are happy being itunes free. We also have kindles. We don’t need to bring a fourth ecosystem into our house. This would be a whole lot easier to swallow if there were choices beyond iPads. Yes, I read the chart in the tech pilot notes, I get that “the apps” for the iPad is the reason for that choice, but the rest of the chart and entire document is a joke, and skewed for their decision. Owning tablets has also taught me that they are toys. Sure, there may be a few apps that are cool to teach 4th graders some things in a fun and different manner, but is the cost worth it? These are not fully functional computers that are going to successfully teach our kids about technology. I know Concord is going with Macbook Air’s for this reason. It is also not likely that the kids will use these “at least through middle school”. To expect 5 years out of one of these is asking a lot particularly the battery. Three years is a much more reasonable number. I could go on and on ripping the meeting notes apart, but ultimately this is a big decision and shouldn’t just be forced on us. Laptops and software have been around for quite a while and we haven’t done 1:1 before. Just because this trendy iPad thing is popular now doesn’t mean that this is a good decision.

As far as Principal Murdock ridiculous comments, I agree the school committee should be responsible for decisions that use the budget, but they don’t have to the right to institute new taxes, and lets not beat around the bush, that IS what this is.

17 Robyn Stewart October 3, 2013 at 5:12 PM

Fiona – thank you for raising this issue in such a public space.

I think it is important that parents have a say in this process. I share many of the same concerns that you voiced in your letter (my children are 2nd and 1st grade).

There seem to be many unanswered questions! Looking forward to the discussion on October 9th.

18 Matthew October 3, 2013 at 6:01 PM

I’m in IT and at work we are dealing with having purchased a few iPads for staff to use for several very specific work related tasks and all but one has been loaded with personal apps and essentially made into a personal device by the users. And yes we do have a Mobile Device Policy and a Mobile Device Management Tool but you simply cannot lock down an iPad the way you can a windows or Android device. These things are glitzy toys that do not belong in business nor in the classroom. If adults can’t manage to follow directions what genuine good will this device be if the kids are encouraged through peer pressure to load anything they want on it. Learning will be the last thing happening…It has to be locked down and centrally managed. Does the school have a plan for that?

My daughter desperately wants an iPod touch for her birthday that would cost $300 for the 32GB model but we are probably going for the Nexus 7 for about $50 less with twice the screen size. Is it Apples to Apples? More like Dollars and sense.

When my same daughter had trouble with reading she was sent home with an online subscription to a learning tool that the school paid for. It wasn’t MAC or PC based it was INTERNET based. Please don’t tell me that a very expensive iPad will serve them for 5 years when they should be learning on platform independent tools that are already in place.

All my kids get a lot of screen time on PBS Kids using inexpensive and OLD PC laptops. We even have a ROKU app called MathFacts we pay $2 a month for. The future of technology in education is online learning that is PLATFORM INDEPENDANT.

Since my wife works late on Mondays I am happily at home putting three kids to bed. Please someone light this issue up at the meeting and DON’T DRINK THE Kool-aid!!!

19 beth October 3, 2013 at 8:00 PM

I’m not sure where Monday came from. I just want to make sure you realize that the School Committee meeting is Wednesday, 6:30 pm at Trottier.

20 EHB October 3, 2013 at 8:21 PM

I applaud the efforts of Fiona and those out there that are willing to take a position of opposition to a plan that in my opinion has a tremendous amount of holes.
There is no reason at all for my children to come back and forth from school carrying such an expensive “toy”.
We have had an Ipad in our home for 3 years(it’s been cracked for a year) and we also have the privilege of other devices that are app based. The concept of 24 hour learning shouldn’t have anything to do with being able to log onto their Ipad anytime they need to. Learning comes in a variety of formats and after spending all day at school, kids should get to be kids…that is what a 4th grader is…a kid.

A pilot shouldn’t include an entire grade level. A pilot can be done in a more condensed format easily funded by the school.

Southborough has always had a wonderful reputation for education. I’m a product of it. Let’s not let our good standing go down in flames.

21 Fiona October 3, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Thank you all for your amazing, thought-provoking comments! Please keep them coming. We would especially love to hear from child development specialists, pediatricians, IT folks and other educators.

22 SBoro parent October 4, 2013 at 8:25 AM

My comment yesterday was meant to address Fiona’s quote from Linda Murdock, not the comment after it. Just to clarify..

23 Cynthia Moore October 4, 2013 at 8:20 PM

It may be useful for all to know that my son’s private school implemented the use of iPads last year from grades 4-8. This included the use of a wireless keyboard and required acquisition of the strongest iPad protection casing system out there. This was a pretty expensive out of pocket expense as you needed to purchase the highest GB to ensure room for ALL of the various apps that may be needed for an individual student.

A year later, they have now moved to every student using a MAC. Among the many reasons for the switch was that the MAC version of tools required to assist those with language based learning disabilities (e.g. dysgraphia, dyslexia, dysphonemia) were far superior than the iPad apps when it came to speech to text software (i.e. Dragon Speak), writing assistance software (i.e. inspiration), word prediction software, etc.

Our iPad is now relegated to being an expensive e-Reader and a platform to play Angry Birds on when in the car for drives. I think the question to be asking is not iPad or not but why not laptops that are internet disabled?

The really old MAC that my child now uses cost us $250 through a partnership program the private school entered into with a re-sale agent. Before you fall out of your chairs, yes, the 4th graders do have their own as well and it travels back/forth to school with them. The nice side effect is that the kids now all have padded backpacks with wheels on them to overcome the weight issue for the smaller kids and to also give the MACs some added cushioning.

I know that in the 4th grade it was a struggle to get my child to remember his glasses let alone something like a MAC. I stand in amazement as I watch these kids day in and out bring them back and forth dutifully. My child, who often forgets his coat on a snowy day, never forgets his MAC. It’s THAT important to him.

I respect and honor the differences in opinions shared within this forum. We all parent differently, we all have our own views and beliefs about technology, we all have our own sets of personal challenges financially and otherwise. I hope that learning of another school’s experience is useful to the dialogue in some regard. Let us all remember that we are a fortunate few who can have such discussions. We are an ever rarer breed who have the opportunity to be weighing in on which, if any, technology to add to the classroom. There are plenty of communities not so far away where basic needs such as paper, chairs, books, etc. are the topic of debate. Can you believe that last year one of Worcester’s schools ran out of toilet paper? We are indeed a fortunate community.

24 Kathryn K October 4, 2013 at 11:14 PM

I just posted on the other iPad related post–not seeing this one first.

We live here in Southborough but my daughter attends Bancroft–which is 3 years into a mandatory iPad program. There are pro and cons. Some of the challenges are significant. I would be happy to chat with someone about the many challenges we have had so that you can be better prepared than I was to A) mitigate the risks and B) ask the school for some very specific success metrics. Please learn from our mistakes at Bancroft. I can be reached at k2sboro@yahoo.com.

25 Kathy Cook October 5, 2013 at 11:44 AM

This whole thread is very interesting to me. The Southborough Education Foundation (SEF) has funded several iPad based grants the last three years. We did not fund the grants just to buy iPads. We funded grants that we felt would use the iPads in new and innovative ways. Please read about the use in the AssistMENTS program and about Dan Welty’s use in his Physics class at Algonquin this year. We have also funded iPads for almost all grades – fourth and up – for other purposes.

Having said that I am in total agreement with John Butler that if the 1:1 program is going to happen in the fourth grade, then the funding must be done from a public source such as the Southborough school budget – either thru their normal budget or thru a warrant article to be voted on at next year’s Town Meeting which would delay the program until the fall if approved.

The school system already owns quite a few iPads including those being currently used by Neary. Therefore, there is already a head start on having enough iPads at Neary to accommodate all fourth graders.

Lastly, this has started what I consider a healthy dialogue with parents weighing in in a very appropriate manner. It is therefore incumbent on the school committee and Principal Murdock to take seriously the parents’ concerns expressed here and elsewhere. There are common threads to many of their concerns. So let’s find the best thinking on the subject and make a good, informed decision on what is best for our fourth graders.

26 removed October 5, 2013 at 1:11 PM

Removed at request of commenter

27 Frank Crowell October 6, 2013 at 8:45 AM

Fiona – to your point is this recent essay in the WSJ

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304213904579095303368899132.html

If this link does not work, the tittle is “Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results” from Sept 28 edition. I had not seen it but discovered from letters to the editor. It is well written and there is very little I could disagree. “Old ways” of education really did work. Why not try this again?

What I find striking from the above thread (Ms. Murdock’s reply in particular), and past actions of the superintendent and education committee, there is a group think among our education leaders that they know better then any parent or taxpayer. In order to improve that needs to change.

28 Concerned Parent October 7, 2013 at 5:18 AM

Both Ms. Cook and Mr. Crowell make excellent points. As a parent, I resent the fact that something that stands to significantly negatively impact my child is being shoved down my throat. A January ’14 implementation is too ambitious- even for a pilot. Much more discussion and planning is warranted.

29 Diane Root October 7, 2013 at 5:16 PM

As a parent of two Neary 4th graders (I have twins) who attended the first parent meeting on this issue and has followed the dialog, I wanted to weigh in on this topic.

I will come right out and say I am in favor of this project moving forward, but I feel it has to be in a more thoughtful, deliberate fashion than has been presented thus far.

I will also say, in my assessment, that this project has delved our community into greater and more complex issues that need to be looked at in order for educators and parents to get to the common ground for this to go forward.

Here is my take:

The Common Ground

It is probably fair to say most on every side of this agree that this type of technology use is the way of the future. And we would agree we all want our children to have access to leading edge schooling and technology to ensure their success in the world they will live in.

What Educators May Not Realize:

The “Screen Time” Issue
As parents, our generation is the “transition” generation: we did not grow up with technology but now are forced to figure it all out for our kids.

This is difficult for us. It requires a lot of effort on our part already to “manage screen time”. And many of us don’t feel comfortable that we know what the right thing to do is. We struggle daily with this.

The iPad Pilot as currently presented by the schools unfortunately plays upon these parental discomforts. This project feels like more work and angst and uncertainty in an already frustrating situation to us.

The Cost Issue
While Southborough is considered an affluent community, there are more than a few people who live here who can’t afford the $500-700 cost of the iPad,

There are even more who don’t think parents should shoulder the entire burden for the cost simply because they can afford to do so.

What Parents May Not Realize:

The “Use” Issue

In my opinion, we parents have to recognize there are important distinctions between
1) passive technology use for entertainment (TV, apps, video games, and music) – the “end” if you will
2) active technology use (for learning)—the “means to the end” if you will, and
3) the broader physical and emotional impacts of sitting in front of a computer screen for any length of time.

Each of these addresses a different aspect of “screen time”, and need different considerations and guidelines for use, in my view.

As a parent, if we make this distinction, we can ask for the help and guidelines we need to manage 1 and 3, and not summarily dismiss “more screen time” as bad so we miss out on the benefits of 2.

The “Digital Citizenship” Issue

I believe also as parents we need to realize that technology is only going to get more pervasive in our kids’ lives. And I personally feel the sooner we can teach them to manage it, the better.

As parents I think we have a real opportunity, through these types of projects and others, to teach our kids key perspectives and important skills like:

1) How to create and manage boundaries for technology in our lives, so that our kids can be in control of it and not vice versa. For example, one does not need to check one’s phone every minute for messages, nor does one need to respond immediately to every text.

2) How to choose balance in their free time so technology isn’t their only go-to activity. That is, how to balance other activities such as sports, reading, or just hanging out with passive technology use for entertainment.

3) How to properly care for delicate technological devices.

A Path Forward

When all is said and done, I do think there is a path forward for this project, but it must include addressing the above issues (and no doubt others), to the extent possible.

I also think it is fair to keep in mind this is new for everyone, and not everything may be able to be fully figured out in advance.

Some suggestions to consider:

Establish Comprehensive Use Guidelines
These would include guidelines, supported by research where possible, on all aspects of the project, including:
1) Recommendation on amount of time to be spent on passive technology use, active technology use, and general “screen time” per day versus other activities.
2) Techniques for healthy screen time, such as taking breaks every 15 minutes, holding devices away from the face to avoid eye strain, and good posture for computer use.
3) Appropriate use and care of the technology, such as no use allowed on the bus, no downloading of unauthorized apps, keeping iPad in a sealed plastic bag to avoid damage, etc.
4) Good “Digital Citizenship” recommendations

Communicate Curriculum Details with Parents
Prior to project rollout, educators should inform parents
1) How much and what specific types of apps/work will be done online versus traditional methods
2) How in-school curriculums will be adjusted to boost skills in writing or other areas that may be compromised with increased online access to learning

Share Cost Burden for iPads
It is only fair for the schools to at least share if not fund this type of initiative, in my view. Some possible options could be separate fundraising, grants, or tech company partnerships.

There should also be good programs in place that address support, upgrades, maintenance and insurance of the devices.

I hope others will agree we can move this project forward if we approach it with a little more understanding, thought, and preparation. None of the issues are insurmountable in my view, and can be solved by parents and educators working together, if not using the above suggestions than some other way.

The benefits of this type of project to our students are well worth it!

Thanks for the opportunity to share.

30 Heather Gowdy October 7, 2013 at 8:09 PM

This makes a lot of sense, and I have to say that I also am in favor of the pilot. A major concern – which I share – seems to be about the funding mechanism. This seems to be a perfect opportunity to come together as a community and first hear more about how the committee came to its recommendation (there may be factors we aren’t aware of) and then work together to come up with a way to fund the kind of quality program we would all like to see – including appropriate prep, training, roll-out, and parental support.

31 SouthboroDave October 7, 2013 at 5:50 PM

Another concerned parent here. We’re still struggling with how much ‘screen time’ to allow our 18month old. I most certainly don’t want our decision to be undermined by her school eventually..

32 Southborough 4th Grade Parent October 7, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Although there are many facets to this initiative which require more exploration it is important to realize that there are many Southborough parents who are open to discussing the 1:1 initiative in greater detail to understand the options available. Please make sure to attend the meeting so the dialogue represents alternative views to many posted here and on Facebook. Don’t assume someone will represent your opinion. Mr Capra also told me that it is important that all are represented at the meeting. This is one situation where your presence can not be replaced with Social Media.

33 kate October 9, 2013 at 12:25 AM

We are currently in the middle of a two year work placement in Germany and my kids are in a school that requires children from 5th grade up to bring their own laptop to school. I have 3 boys in 8th, 5th and 1st grade and two of which are dyslexic. The school we go to allows children to bring any laptop as long as it has google crome and every class therefore has a mix of macs and pcs. I think it is important that children get used to using technology since as adults most of us in a working day rarely pick up a pen and paper but tend to type. I do however feel an ipad is not the best tool. As a previous comment had said it does not help with typing skills or easily allow for easy storage of documents etc. In addition ipads are much less robust than a laptop so I think many will be damaged. There have been alot of comments about the need for children to be able to practice handwriting and I totally agree that this is extremely important. When my children arrived in Germany the new school was so horrified by their handwriting that both were giving extra one to one lesson to improve it even though in Southborough they were not considered to have poor handwriting. I feel by the time our children are in fourth grade we should have already have taught them to have good handwriting and maybe we should also be looking at how handwriting is taught as a separate issue. In Southborough we first teach our children in preschool to write all in uppercase letters then in K-2 teach a very straight line style of printing and then in 3rd grade teach cursive. When we teach them to write in 3 totally unconnected styles over 5 years no wonder they never master any! Why not teach a more curved styled printing (eg a t curles at the bootom not just a cross shape) from preschool which is easy to progressive to cursive .
As for the benefits of the laptop system my kids are using at the moment they include
1 Great for kids with organizational problems as all there work is stored in one place ie a cloud which cannot be lost
2 Children seem a lot more technology savvy than they were when we were in southborough
3 In essays children can organize there work better as it is easily edited. In my children’s case I actually think this makes them more creative as when they have lots of ideas rushing into their heads they can get them all down on paper very quickly and then edit them into a well organized grammatically correct piece of work.
As for the down sides
1 Cost. My younger son ended up having an old computer to keep down the cost.
2 Children have not only been playing games in the class but also watching porn which when the class is in rows and they are on a laptop means all kids behind them are also watching porn! This has been overcome by the school having a school wide “parental control” through the wifi.

My children are constantly loosing things and incredibly accident prone but my inital main concern that they would loose or break their laptops taking them to school and back every day has been unfounded. To the best of my knowledge no other kids have lost or broken laptops either.

In conclusion I have seen huge benefits from my kids using technology as their primary tool but I do not feel that, in a public school system, this should be at the cost of the parent and if it is, the parent should have more choice in the device they choose to buy

34 Southville October 9, 2013 at 11:21 AM

I think there’s a minor point that a lot of people are missing that makes a huge difference. This is a pilot program. So unless I’m misunderstanding, this is a test to see how well this will work in our school system, starting with just one grade for one year. Obviously it’s valid to discuss pros and cons, but we should keep in mind that this is a trial program, and we’ll be able to get feedback and make adjustments as necessary.

So for those who think it’s a terrible idea that is bound to fail, if you are right, then we’ll try this out for a year, everyone will see the poor results, and we can move on from this with some great insights for our future.

35 Mark Ford October 9, 2013 at 1:12 PM

…and those parents who shelled out $550-700 for an IPad will get reimbursed? ;-)

36 Kaley Cuoco October 9, 2013 at 12:49 PM

I have been following the commentary on mysouthborough and FB. One area of discussion lacking focus is the number of children in our community with ADD and ADHD and the proposed screen time for up to 1/3 of the child’s entire school day. How can this be good for any child, let alone those with ADD and ADHD who require limited screen time?

37 John Butler October 9, 2013 at 2:03 PM

The parents thinking about this as a learning tool might want to consider how this plan fits with the low ranking MCAS results that the Southborough K8 system has had over the last several years. If you look at the latest State DOE data on http://www.doe.mass.edu/apa/dart/ (downloading the District Analysis), Southborough K8 average rank on the five measures of MCAS and MCAS Growth is second lowest of the 11 similar school districts that the State DOE compares us to. Southborough K8 ranks last, or tied for last, on 3 out of 5 measures among these 11 districts. I’ve watched it for several years, and this is not new. How do iPads figure into this picture as a program change? Do districts that do better have more or less intensive use of computers in classrooms? Alternatively, maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe the iPads are about enrichment and not measured results? Perhaps K8 MCAS can be ignored, since the high school does well, or maybe the MCAS itself is just a bad idea for K8 systems? I think if I were a parent considering the whole picture, I’d want to be aware of it, and have some interpretation of the MCAS results that I was comfortable with. If I were a school administrator thinking about asking the Town to fund iPads, I’d want to know what I was going to say about how this fits into such educational metrics as the State seems to deem important. Personally I’m not sure what K8 MCAS means educationally, but on the other hand it is very visible.

38 Fiona October 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM

We hope to see all of you who have contributed such thought-provoking comments at tonight’s meeting–6.30 p.m. Trottier School. Thank you!

Fiona

39 Fiona October 20, 2013 at 10:35 PM

Is anyone else wondering why Southborough is hiring this dynamic speaker who tours the country to present at this week’s iPad Pilot Project meeting rather than some of the core teachers who will be implementing this technology? Wonder how much this sales pitch is costing the school?

http://edtechteacher.org/index.php/keynotes

40 BarbM October 24, 2013 at 1:10 AM

It’s not costing the school–it’s costing us!!

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