iPads land in St. Paul schools by the thousands

Steadily, new tablet computing devices are rolling out into St. Paul Public Schools classrooms.

In mid-December, nearly all of Johnson High School’s more than 1,300 students received Apple iPads.

The high school was the eighth school to get the devices, and the third East Side school. More devices are going out each week — by the end of the school year, 37 schools will have an iPad for every student, in order to fulfil the district’s “Personalized Learning Plan” goals.

The iPads are on lease from Apple — the first year of leasing will cost an estimated $4 million to $5 million, while a full-on implementation next year will mean an annual operating budget of between $7 million and $8 million.

Maijue Lochungvu, one of the district’s personalized learning specialists, (and specifically, an iPad coach) reports that the rollouts have been going smoother and smoother with each successive rollout.

“We refine the process each time,” she said.

On the second day of the Johnson rollout, they’d had only two or three out of hundreds of devices that had run into glitches. And with much of the district’s tech team onsite, they were on track to get the devices into classrooms in two days.

After the iPads are in place, the district will keep a full-time staff person dedicated to working with the devices at all the high schools, and will have at least part-time staff at all schools in the district.

Surprising uses

Timothy Hofmann, the principal at  Parkway Montessori Middle School, has been watching the devices become a part of the school’s everyday experience since early October.

And, it’s fairly well integrated into the East Side classrooms — “it’s really become part of our culture very quickly,” he said.

He says it’s too early to tell whether they’re a success, but they are being used heavily.

“They’re becoming an integral part of the education experience at Parkway,” he said.

And they’re being used in sometimes surprising ways, such as in music class he watched Tuesday, Dec. 16, where kids had iPads connected to electric pianos. The devices replaced laptops, which had piano instructions loaded on them. While the laptops stay in the classroom, students can take the iPad “and in essence, they take the keyboard home with them,” he said, allowing them to work on homework without lugging a laptop — or a piano.

In a science classroom, he watched as students had a lecture delivered to them via their iPads. The students went through the lecture at their own pace, following links embedded in it to find out more and taking notes, while the teacher checked in on individual students’ progress.

“Now the lecture isn’t just driven by the teachers ... it’s now being used by everyone at their own pace,” Hofmann explained.

Few losses so far

Hofmann also said there have been less security issues than expected at the school — “We went into it thinking we were going to have all sorts of problems” such as devices disappearing or breaking.

But, so far, that hasn’t been much of an issue. There have been a few broken iPads, he said, but “when you think about the sheer numbers we’re talking about, it hasn’t been very many.”

He admits some kids have searched out distractions rather than coursework in class — “it’s basically the 21st century version of a kid hiding an ‘Archie’ comic book in a textbook,” he said.

But, “The more we get used to the management of those things, the more that stuff goes away.”

Optimistic approach

Micheal Thompson, principal at Johnson High, said students seemed excited to be getting the devices, and also poised — “Most kids already have smart phones,” he said, so they’re familiar with tablet-style touch screen technology.

Thompson said teachers at the school are “all over the place” in terms of preparedness for the devices.

Teachers were given a 6-hour training in advance of the devices landing in classrooms, Lochungvu said.

She also said teachers will have access to additional staff who can help them with implementing iPads in classrooms.

Thompson said he could see the potential for the devices to help “flip” the main uses of classrooms, using class time for workshopping, and making teacher lectures into videos that students watch at home. That way, classroom can be spent working on what would normally be homework, allowing teachers to check in with students more regularly.

He said that rather than being a technological gimmick, he looks at the tablets as “a tool to personalize learning.”

By the end of the 2015-2016 school year, iPads will be in the hands of all St. Paul Public Schools students.

As the devices roll out, parents are asked to sign permission forms allowing their children access to the devices.

Schools are updating their wireless network capacities in preparation for the devices — access points are in every classroom where iPads have been rolled out.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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