School Committee plans to increase iPad use in all grades (and possibly at home)

Above: Increased iPad use in grades starting at Kindergarten is the goal of School administrators and committee members (Image cropped from photo posted to Flickr by Laurie Sullivan)

Earlier this month, the Southborough School Committee discussed their technology goals for the schools. The committee made it clear that they hope to increase the use of iPads in all grades.

Members were updated on the success of the iPad pilot. This spring, 4th grade teachers were provided with increased access. Neary Principal Linda Murdock explained that iPads are now incorporated regularly into classroom activities.

In the fall, many parents had objected to the planned pilot.

In its original form, the initiative called for parents to purchase the iPads. They could have also continued using them for homework.

Most critics focused on the requirement that parents purchase iPads and/or that students would be responsible for bringing them to and from school.

School administrators responded to criticism by taking parents out of the equation. They found funding for the school to purchase one iPad per every two students.

But funding wasn’t the only parent complaint. The pilot was also controversial because of conflicting opinions on screen time.

Many parents were excited by the idea of increasing technology in the classroom. Proponents were supportive of improved learning opportunities. They were also worried that not increasing technology would cause students to be behind the “rest of the world”.

Meanwhile, several critics worried about potential health and mental risks of increased screen time.

At that time, some parents expressed concerns that the iPad pilot would be spread to lower grades. Administrators dismissed that as not being discussed.

In more recent School Committee meetings, administrators have made it clear that they intend to increase iPad use in all grades.

At the May 14th meeting, Director of Technology Jean Tower stated:

We are setting the groundwork to move forward everywhere, not just 3rd grade on.

Currently, Finn and Woodward teachers use iPads by borrowing from the carts in each school. Although not high on the priority list, an ultimate goal is to increase professional development so teachers can make better use of them. And a goal is to increase access in all of the schools.

Highest on the list of priorities is preparing to increase use at Trottier. As 4th grade students move up grades, School Committee members want to ensure they are able to continue using the technology.

Kathleen Harragan Polutchko remarked:

We’ve got 5th and 4th graders who, this is how they know school. . .We can’t let them get to Trottier and say, “OK, use the white board.'”

And using the devices at home may be back on the table.

Vice Chair Gerry Capra asked Tower “when we’re 1:1 next year, we would have the opportunity. . . to let children bring those home with permission”. Tower replied that it was “within the realm of possibility. . . there are a lot of considerations.” Capra indicated that it’s something they should consider in next year’s discussions.

Chair Paul Desmond echoed colleague’s enthusiasm for what they’ve seen with the iPad use. But he also pointed out that so far the success is anecdotal:

I still think we’re struggling to actually prove any of this. . . It’s really difficult, from what I gather, to come up with evidence that it’s improving learning.

Desmond would like to be able to make the case for school fund or parent help by showing “we’ve improved learning by x%”. He supports spending money on consultants to do that.

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SB Resident
8 years ago

This needs to move from and iPad debate to a tablet debate. In 2013 android based tablets had over 60% of the market and iPads have fallen to around 35%, this trend is expect to continue in 2014. The bang for your buck is just so much greater with android, generally 2-1 if not better. (our current 2-1 ratio could be at the 1-1 goal!!) The apps are better argument is virtually gone now too because as the market share has shifted, developers are generally now developing for android first and iPad second.

I was against the iPad pilot mostly for the reason that limiting this to iPad is simply wasteful. Given that these are fairly fragile devices, I would feel so much better having my child lug a 100-200 dollar device back and forth to school than one that is 500+, particularly when that extra money doesn’t (arguably) buy you very much if anything.

Trottier
8 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Most of my sons 8th grade classes use google docs so they can share with teacher easily. He loves it! Seeing that there is really no cost to using this app, why not explore Android? You would think they would consider the Android as they are using the document sharing already.

Matthew
8 years ago

“They found funding for the school to purchase one iPad per every two students.”

Do we have to ask for a public records discolure formally or is someone going to tell me how they found that kind of cash. As SB resident said above why have 2:1 with an iPad when you can get 1:1 with an Android.
If money is an issue at all then why isn’t the subject open to discussion with the schools IT folks?

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

Matthew – maybe you can get this on the agenda for the next school committee meeting so that it can be discussed openly with the public. Prior posts quoted school committee members committing to open discussion (back and forth dialog with the taxpayers) if it were on the agenda. I honestly do not believe it but would love to be proven wrong.

Kate
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

Matthew;
If I had to guess, an iPad program is being proposed because that is the technology that the districts chose to invest in over the last few years. I assume that professional development has been undertaken also.

John Butler
8 years ago
Reply to  Matthew

Matthew,
No, you don’t have to ask for a public records request. I’ll tell you how they “found that kind of cash”. They’ve always had it. They just didn’t explain that very well, shall we say, back when they wanted parents to pay extra.

When this issue first arose, and they wanted every parent to buy an iPad, it was reported here that “Funding [questions were] fielded by School Committee member Marybeth Strickland who said based on her long experience, it would never pass the budgeting process.
Strickland said that the school has been “treading water” with its budget in the last few years.”

If you read that statement, your question is reasonable. However, it seems that “long experience” and “treading water” actually meant that the K8 system spent over $250,000 on “classroom instructional technology” paid for with tax dollars in the prior reporting year. It not only passed the “budgeting process” that year, it passed the budget every year. (Money for building networking and IT infrastructure is on top of that.) So, all they needed to do to “find it” was look in their budget and make some priority decisions.

Since you mention public records request, I can point you to the online file that contains this budget information: you want 12eoy276 which can be found on the Advisory Committee website, here: https://southboroughadvisory.shutterfly.com/resources (This is the file that, in the prior budget year, some members of the School Committee denied existed, until it was found it at the State, where our District had deposited a copy.)

Bear in mind, and maybe we disagree on this, but I think it is good that they have money for instructional technology and I support their having it. I always have. What I don’t support is school committee members telling the public they don’t have the money. Instead they should be proud of the fact and thankful, as I am, that they are so well supported by this Town. So now they “found” money. Great. Not surprising. Glad they found it.

My opinions here are my own, not those of the Advisory Committee.

Rebecca Deans-Rowe
8 years ago

Here is an informative article addressing the preference for iPads over other tablets.

http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/ipad/eschools-out-android-while-ipad-goes-top-class-3489179/

In short, Apple *owns* the education market, and so the highest quality apps are developed for their device. If a choice must be made, educators prefer the option of fewer tablets with better software to more tablets with mediocre software.

Kathryn K.
8 years ago

My daughter goes to Bancroft which has standardized on the iPad. It was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong–I have an iPad and an iPhone and I like them a lot. But there are serious limitations using the iPad versus a Windows-based tablet as an education device:
1. Nearly impossible to monitor app usage
2. Students w ADD/ADHD find the many pop ups/imessages/etc distracting–and this is much harder to manage on IOS(which requires jailbreaking if you want to install any tool that limits/tracks/imposes rules on these distractions)
3. Let’s be honest: which type of device best prepares our kids for college? (I suggest you test for yourselves using Word and Powerpoint on the iPad versus a Windows tablet).

BTW–prepare yourselves no matter what tablet you choose: kids don’t use the optional keyboards. Many end up typing with their thumbs on the iPad!! Yes, even long papers.

Fiona
8 years ago

It was stated by a school official that ” we received a very large donation from an anonymous donor specifically to fund the purchase of iPads”. This was in January so shortly after one mom discovered the funding proposal for the scheme was deemed illegal.

Interesting what Beth brings to our attention above regarding the plan to spread iPad use to lower grades. We knew it to be true at the time but when it became apparent that this would draw greater opposition from parents of younger-grade children, the verbiage was immediately changed in the proposal, which we found puzzling.

So, there is no fear of the children not being exposed to technology and our position was never anti-technology. It was about covering the basics first and proposing the higher grades, like Trottier or AHS try the pilot (without parents being expected to pay). And for the record, my 4th grader had only one take-home writing assignment this year which was 5 paragraphs so I am still hoping to cover the basics first:)

Anna
8 years ago

I am aware of another private school that also has also reversed an iPad project! I’m struggling with what they think that they will accomplish with the iPad. Also I had to take away my sixth-grader’s iPad because it was too distracting and my house usage rules were not being followed. It is way too easy to play a game, go onto Instagram or YouTube, or otherwise misuse it.

Instead my child now uses a Samsung Chromebook. It only works with wifi but has a physical keyboard so the typing skills are progressing. There are still ways for students to distract themselves but it is not associated with play nearly as much. The schools are using Googledocs so a student is able to log into their school account and complete assignments. After school: visit the school website to check on an assignment, conduct research, then perhaps log onto StraightAce. It has been an excellent tool. There may not be the same number of educational apps available for the Chromebook but it is the tool of choice for many districts for a number of reasons. it is also half the price of the iPad.

If technology is used, please make sure it does not further dilute the Neary curriculum. Sorry if this is a little off topic but I agree with the comment about the lack of writing etc at Neary. It has been a difficult transition this year for my child and many classmates to Trottier since the kids had few assignments to complete at home in fourth and fifth grades. Going into sixth is big change as the kids have never had to develop the skill of independently managing multiple assignments and projects up to that point and there is significantly more homework expected of the students.

Please make sure we are not wasting our money without fully vetting this and really looking at what skills need to be developed at what stage. At this point I do not feel we are headed in the right direction. Having iPads does not in any way mean our children will be exposed to technology or technological skills. It is all about the curriculum and the implementation.

SB Resident
8 years ago

I agree there is a perception that there are better apps on iPad, but I’ve never seen recent proof. I’d like to see a list of the apps used in the district and see how many are available on android. For example, the Lexia products we use are available on android and Pearson’s common core products are web based.

I also agree with Anna that curriculum and implementation are more important that just having the technology. The feeling is that we are making this up as we go along, just so we can say yeah we’re doing that. I think there needs to be a greater focus on communication from the district on how tech is used and proving the benefits.

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