The computer age has revolutionized education, and now many schools are taking the next step and supplying students with their own tablet computers.
An article by News staff reporter Sandra Tan outlined the progress some local school districts have made.
The latest example, in Williamsville’s Heim Middle School, has every fifth-grader outfitted with an iPad2 as part of a one-year pilot program. Eventually, it will be the largest public school iPad effort in the region.
This digital revolution will cost the district $300,000 next year when every fifth-grader across the district gets a tablet device. Pretty expensive, but there’s a strong-enough argument that the device is helping kids learn.
Anyone familiar with the iPad or similar tablet knows that it can make browsing the Internet easy. Dexterity isn’t as much of a factor as typing on a traditional keyboard, which may explain why the very young adapt to it so quickly. A tap on an unfamiliar word can bring up a definition right on the screen. The lightweight device can easily hold a backpack’s worth of textbooks in the form of ebooks.
Every kindergartner at Roy B. Kelly Elementary School in Lockport got an iPad back in 2010-11, the first year of a three-year program with the University at Buffalo. The school was the first in the region to adopt a one-student-to-one-iPad program. The Williamsville School District already had about 1,300 iPads distributed among its elementary, middle and high schools, and there is strong evidence that the device works extremely well as an educational tool.
In fact, a few teachers have said that students who have difficulty learning are finding a good deal of help in the iPad. They’re participating more in class and probably feeling a lot less intimidated.
Just think what a similar iPad program could do for a dismally performing school district like Buffalo’s, with a graduation rate of about 50 percent. The district provides in-school access to more than 12,500 laptop and desktop computers, 1,000 tablet devices, both iPad and Android, and 90 donated Kindles ereaders. School officials say they recognize the need to put 21st century technology into the hands of students, and seek cost-effective, responsible options to do this. Fair enough.
Certainly, the iPad won’t be the magic bullet that turns poor students into scholars, but it could be a part of the solution. The district could start small and, if the effectiveness is proven, expand the program.
Finding the money is always a problem, especially with roughly 32,000 students, but this is a district that spends more than $22,000 a year per student and is still getting lousy results. Find a way to peel off a few hundred dollars from that pot. Or, partner with a foundation or seek grant money. Of course, there are major logistical hurdles to overcome, but other urban districts are confronting them.
IPads are allowing youngsters in the Williamsville School District to keep themselves better organized for school, turn in homework on time and not miss as many assignments. Kindergartners are emailing their assignments to their teachers and tech-savvy kids are showing their teachers shortcuts for using the iPads better and faster.
Imagine similar scenarios playing out at a few of those schools under state review in Buffalo.