Glastonbury High School students are iPad-equipped for new school year

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Aug. 23, 2013
GHS sophomore Katherine Flynn opens up the iPad she receives on Aug. 21 as part
GHS sophomore Katherine Flynn opens up the iPad she received on Aug. 21 as part of the school's new initiative. Photos by Steve Smith.

Approximately 1,100 iPads will have been given to Glastonbury High School’s incoming freshmen and sophomores by the time school starts. The iPad initiative began with a pilot program last year in which about 26 students and one teacher were given the iPads in order to see how they could be used in the classroom.

“We learned a lot from those 26 kids,” said Brian Czapla, Glastonbury schools' director of educational technology, who added that a lot of research was done, including other small pilot programs, visits to other schools using the tablets and gathering data. “It became very apparent that the iPads became the best opportunity for our kids to learn now, and in the future, and to provide them with a number of skill sets that they will need in college and in the workplace,” Czapla said.

The tablets were purchased by the Board of Education, and a cost-analysis during budget deliberations indicated that most of the cost is offset by what the district would be saving instead of spending money to replace or repair other outdated computers. Most of the iPads were given out during training sessions for the students and their families in July, but the last 200 or so were dristributed in late August sessions.

Czapla said the iPads offer a differentiated approach to instruction and a more participatory place in the classroom. “They can try things, touch things, see things and collaborate with other students,” he said. “The apps and online resources really bring math and other subjects to life, as opposed to reading something out of a text where there is no interaction.”

The electronic tools are also something that is familiar to most students of that age. “We have kids who are engaged,” Czapla said, adding that shy kids can also participate more in class, because they can interact with the instruction anonymously.

Katherine Flynn, an incoming sophomore, said she already has an iPad, but it is still new to her, because she will be using it for school, and said it makes going back to school more interesting. “They're excited,” she said of her friends, adding that she thought it would help most students perform better in school, although some may still use it for games and diversions.

“You're going to have to use it for school, but you're going to want to use it for other, fun things, too,” she said.

Teachers were given iPads last October and have had almost a year of conversation, training and professional development, which will continue to take place. While the devices are designed to help, teachers will have the discretion as to when they are appropriate for instruction, or not.

“Sometimes sitting down, being quiet and listening to a lecture is still the most appropriate form of instruction,” Czapla said. “But certainly we anticipate that they will use these devices quite often in the classroom.”

Pre-loaded apps will allow the school to deliver updates directly to students' iPads. Part of the instruction sessions included connecting to the school's wireless network and troubleshooting some basic connection issues, as well as downloading software needed for educational use.

“iTunes U” was created by Glastonbury technology staff, which includes a comprehensive tutorial on how to use the iPad as an organizer, notepad and for homework. Czapla called it “anytime, anywhere training,” because users can brush up on how to use their iPads, right on their iPads.

A full-time technician, Rachel Borecky, was hired to be on-hand during the school day to provide help, answer questions and make repairs when necessary. “We're establishing a tech center for her to work in, and because she's a certified Mac technician, she knows how to fix it and has the certification and privileges from Apple to open it up and not violate the warranty,” Czapla said.

Czapla said that data will be gathered throughout the year, and the program will be re-assessed. “It's tough to measure it in the traditional ways, like test scores,” Czapla said. “I think for this first year the measure is going to be from anecdotal information from students, like if it made them more interested in class, if it changed how they learn, and if they felt like they did better.”

Similar questions will be asked of teachers, questions like if they felt participation was better and if it seemed to reach students who traditionally don't engage or don't do their homework, but have now improved. 

The plan is for students to keep those iPads through their GHS career. By then, there may be a different device that is more appropriate.

“I think that in fewer than 10 years, in all school districts, and possibly all the way down to elementary schools, a device is going to be as commonplace as a three-ring notebook,” Czapla said, adding that someday, paper and books could be eliminated altogether.

“We're putting their textbooks on here, so we won't have to purchase as many textbooks. Notes can be taken right on here, so they won't need notebooks. Teachers are already putting up their content, so they won't have to hand out a worksheet,” he said.

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