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Platteville school iPads to expand to four grades
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One year ago, the Platteville School District embarked on a pilot program to give seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students iPads to use in classrooms and for homework.

One year later, the Platteville School Board voted Monday night to extend iPad use to next year’s seventh-graders, as well as the students already using iPads this year.

The 2014–15 iPad plans are part of a broader five-year plan to replace school district computers, some of which are as old as eight years old, and expand student use of handheld computers. The plan includes a gradual phaseout of computer labs with laptops for juniors and seniors, iPads for seventh- through 10th-graders, and iPad Minis for other students at “learning centers” in Neal Wilkins, Westview and PMS.

District administrator Connie Valenza said the plan is a “shift in program from a lab-based instructional environment for technology to an individual classroom-based instructional environment for technology.”

The plan the school board unanimously passed projects to spend, between the 2014–15 and 2018–19 school years, slightly less than the $160,000-per-year average the school district has spent on technology over the past 21 years. Those funds will be part of each school year’s budget, instead of funded through district reserve funds, as the pilot project was funded.

“Moving forward, we no longer believe it’s appropriate to come out of the fund balance, and that it’s appropriate to have this part of the regular budget,” said Valenza.

A survey of teachers, students and parents showed more positive than negative reviews, though the pilot program has had its challenges.

The survey of teachers revealed that 80 percent of PMS teachers and 50 percent of PHS teachers had students use iPads in classes. While 60 percent of PMS teachers used iPads for assignments “daily,” 50 percent of PHS students used them
“occasionally.” While 50 percent of PMS teachers said the iPads allowed them to cover more material in class, only 34 percent of PHS teachers agreed, and while 90 percent of PMS teachers said they were able to explore topics in greater depth with students, only 50 percent of PHS teachers made the same statement.

Parents who answered the survey were split on whether their child was more willing to do homework with an iPad, with 49 percent agreeing and 41 percent disagreeing, and whether the iPad changed their child’s attitude toward, (46 percent “greatly” or “somewhat,” 54 percent “little” or “not at all”) or engagement (53 percent “greatly” or “somewhat,” 48 percent “little” or “not at all”) and achievement (44 percent “greatly” or “somewhat,” 55 percent “little” or “not at all”) in school.

Positive parent comments included “school work is interactive and interesting,” “opportunity to access the information and ways of using the information differently,” and “does not forget work at school as often.” Negative parent comments include “struggled to use it effectively,” “iPads are a distraction during free time,” and “problems with doing homework when they are not at home.”

The survey also indicated problems with connectivity, the eBackpack software, and completed assignments disappearing between when they were finished and when they were turned in.

“Our seventh-grade teachers say they would start the school year quite differently — not put them in their hands the first day, teach about digital citizenship,” said district assessment and technology coordinator Lisa Finnegan.

One of the people who admitted to being “a very disappointed parent” after one year of the program was school board member Heather Connolly. “Most teachers do fantastic projects with the students, but not all of the teachers do great projects,” she said.

Connolly also listed issues with sharing documents and assignments that students didn’t know were due on a particular day.

“I’m probably one of the teachers that are 100 percent in favor of iPads … but I would never want you to think we’re going only to iPads,” said Platteville Middle School teacher Jay Gesin. “They’re not taking home 800 pages of a textbook when they only need 10 pages of a textbook.”

The iPads have been used more in middle school classes than in high school classes. One reason, Finnegan said, is that most PMS classes include a single grade.

Finnegan said that 80 percent of students in PMS’ first biology class are freshmen and have iPads, but the other 20 percent don’t. “At the middle school all those kids have iPads in that class; in the high school it’s not necessarily so,” she said.

One goal of the program was to equalize student access to technology, given that, as PMS principal Jason Julius put it, “Some kids have technology at home; some don’t. … There’s a huge need for technology, whether it’s the device in your child’s hand, or your child is taken to a computer lab.”

The school district’s 2014–15 plan, which is budgeted for $181,400, includes students with iPads continuing to use them, while next year’s seventh-graders also will get iPads. The plan also calls for 58 computers at PMS and 29 computers at Westview to be replaced by Chromebooks, while Neal Wilkins will get iPad Minis funded by federal funds.

The 2015–16 plan includes giving juniors Macbook Air laptops to use their junior and senior years, repurposing a PHS computer lab and moving the other to PMS for seventh- and eighth-grade use, and supplying second- through sixth-graders with iPad Minis at those schools’ “learning centers.”

The plan includes replacement of the PHS Business Lab and PHS and PMS technical education computers in the 2017–18 school year. Staff computers will be replaced with Macbook Pros in the 2014–15 and 2018–19 school years, with the old computers repurposed to Neal Wilkins, Westview and PMS computer labs.