Clover’s Connected Classroom moves forward

jbecknell@enquirerherald.comMarch 28, 2014 

— Learning is more fun for Oakridge Middle School student Ara Logan when she uses interactive technology like an iPad.

Last week, 13-year-old Ara got her own.

“It’s better than using books,” she said.

Most of his classmates seemed to agree. They are among about 1,000 Clover students who last month received a devise, iPads for elementary and middle school students and MacBook Air laptops for high schoolers, as part of a new program.

The students will be able to take the devices home and keep them for three or four years, until they either progress to the next school level or graduate, when the devices will be returned to Apple and replaced with new versions.

It’s the last phase of a pilot Connected Classroom initiative approved in the fall by the Clover school board. The three-year, $4.2 million investment aims to put an Apple iPad or MacBook Air in the hands of every student from third grade through high school by next fall.

“It’s exciting to put technology in the hands of all our students,” said Oakridge Principal Will Largen. “It’s a way to put all of our students on a level playing field.”

Thirty-three Clover teachers, with about 1,000 students, were chosen to pilot the project in the current school year, before full implementation in August. Students and teachers have been using the devices in the classroom all year.

Sheila Quinn, assistant superintendent, said the district has phased in the take-home portion of the project at each school during the past month “so we can work through the details, and know what it’s going to be like when we have to do it faster next year.”

Many students, like Cole Gilleland, 13, are thrilled at the chance to have their own device. “I’ve been wanting one of these,” Cole said as he practiced using his new iPad.

Others said they would rather use the iPad than read a textbook. “Learning is boring,” said Noah Daniels, 14, “but it’s a lot more exciting with this.”

The district also announced Bethany Elementary School principal Bill Pratt has been selected to assist in leading the one-to-one technology program. Pratt will focus on its implementation.

Bill Jenkins, a former principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent in York County schools, will complete the school year as Bethany’s interim principal.

Craig Elliott, an Oakridge science teacher who is one of the 33 teachers piloting the project, said students tend to be more engaged in learning with the iPads than with traditional textbooks and lectures.

He said they have used it in his classes by watching video clips related to their subject matter, using simulation apps to prepare for tests and through digital notes that accompany the lesson.

“They have grown up using technology and I think that’s part of their lives,” he said. “This is an incredible opportunity for our district to help us enhance the education of our students.”

Elliott, whose role also includes training others, said most teachers are on board when they see how the devices can be used. “Once they have seen the benefits of it, they embrace what you’re doing,” he said.

Beth Goff, assistant director of technology, who is giving initial training to the students on how to get signed on and how to take care of the devices, said she sees “extreme enthusiasm for using the device.”

“Kids are taking notes because they get to type them,” she said.

She said students are also inquiring about different ways to use the devices. “We want them to think outside the box,” she said. “It’s exciting to be in a classroom and to see where the classroom is going.”

Goff said she doesn’t see the iPad technology as a passing fad in education. “I see us continuing to redefine with a different app or with a different way of doing things,” she said.

Quinn said students in kindergarten to second grade will have access to iPads through stations in their classrooms, but will not be assigned a personal device to take home.

She said during the pilot project, the school district is assuming the liability if a device is lost, stolen or broken. She said the district upped its insurance coverage so the devices could be replaced. Each device also comes with a protective cover, she said.

Beginning in the fall, she said, families will be asked to pay a $50 insurance fee for each device to cover one-time accidental breakage. The district will work with families on a payment plan for the fee, she said.

Students whose families don’t want to pay the insurance fee, she said, will be able to check out the devices at school and use them, but will not be able to take them home.

Quinn said most students are taking their responsibility for the new devices seriously. “They love it and they are thrilled to have it,” she said, “so they want to take care of it.”

Jennifer Becknell •  803-329-4077

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