Hales Corners — In the next step toward integrating technology into the classroom, Whitnall High School distributed one iPad mini to every one of its students this year.
That's 830 hand-held tablet computers to supplement — if not replace — traditional print textbooks.
The new program, called the 1:1 Initiative, started last year at Whitnall Middle School. The program's success motivated its expansion to the high school, where educators plan to make grades, assignments and educational resources available to students and parents through the tablets.
Elementary school classrooms also have iPads, but only for in-class use.
Eric Gran, educational technology director, spearheaded the 1:1 project since joining the Whitnall staff in 2011, when tablets were becoming hot commodities.
"We were at status quo," Gran said. "We weren't doing anything new. We had some nice computer labs and laptop carts, but we weren't doing a lot of training with the staff on integration in the classroom with mobile technology."
Importing an idea
Whitnall's iPad 1:1 was based largely on Milton School District, which Gran said was an "early adapter," integrating the Apple tablets into its middle school four years ago. This year, high school students there will carry 11-inch MacBook Air laptop computers.
"At the end of the day, you want the iPad to be more like a pencil, like a tool that you use," said Tim Schigur, district administrator. "It's not the wow factor. It's the engagement level with the curriculum."
Schigur was the "mastermind" behind Milton's 1:1 while he served as principal of its middle school, Gran said.
The Whitnall district has set goals for every year the iPads are in schools. Year one for the high school is to introduce the new technology and make grades and homework accessible to both parents and students. Year two at the middle school is to begin integrating the iPad into regular lesson planning.
Costs and setup
A new iPad mini with Retina display costs at least $400, according to Apple's website. New textbooks can cost between $50 and $75.
The district purchased the iPads with money it would have used to buy textbooks, Gran said. Paper versions of digital textbooks were offered to middle school students last year. Only 12 were checked out, he added.
Since the tablets are owned by the district, students received them in an orderly fashion on registration day. Tablets came with a touch-screen stylus pen and protective OtterBox case. Students are not allowed to keep iPads during the summer.
Teachers and volunteers guide students through the iPad setup process, helping them create online usernames and passwords to connect to the district's network and to download the necessary apps, such as Pages, Keynote, iBooks, Google Docs, Infinite Campus, iPhoto, Adobe and more.
After one year of iPads at Whitnall, Gran said 40 percent fewer photocopies were made.
Likes and dislikes
As with any new change, Whitnall's 1:1 program has been met with as much enthusiasm as skepticism.
Students at Whitnall registration looked forward to a school year with less paper and a lighter load — the mini tablet weighs less than a pound — but some worried it would make completing assignments difficult.
"I don't know anyone who likes reading on these things. It'll be weird for studying," said senior Kricket Luckow, a self-described "book person."
Last spring, Whitnall High School students participated in a pilot program, in which they tried an iPad mini and full-sized iPad tablet and completed a survey for the administration.
"They were very candid," Gran said. "We went with the mini because it was smaller. We decided for Retina display because it shows more on the screen."
At Milton, Schigur advised kids to try new ways of studying on their tablets. "Obviously, if some student wanted to use a book, we would never deny students an opportunity to use a book," he added.
To prevent in-class distraction, the district disabled social media and chatting programming, as well as camera and video, on the iPads. There is also a remote way for administration to lock down a student's iPad if "use abuse" is detected.