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Continued: Tablets are transforming learning in many west metro classrooms

  • Article by: CANDICE WHEELER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 9, 2013 - 4:08 PM

“We have four or five computer labs, and we estimate in two or three years we’ll be taking these labs apart,” said Jeff Noyes, a teacher on special assignment for technology integration at Minnetonka High School.

“You shouldn’t have to take a field trip to use a computer. The computer should be where the kids live.”

Students can take their iPads home at the end of the school day to work on homework and projects. At the end of every school year, they are collected, then reissued at the start of the next one.

The district’s technology budget covers the cost. Each iPad costs $400, has an $8 cover and about $40 in applications, Noyes said.

Minnetonka’s iPad investment is cost-neutral for now, but eventually it will save the district money, Noyes said. “We have a chemistry book that costs $170; now we can buy one on iBooks for $15,” he said. “We’re saving money, and it’s more up to date.”

The high school’s English Department uses many free and low-price books that can be downloaded directly onto iPads.

“I don’t think I’ve signed up for a computer lab since having the iPads,” said Andi Larson, a ninth-grade English teacher at Minnetonka High School. “It’s been convenient to have that access in the classroom at all times.”

In science class, students can plug a probe into the iPad to conduct tests and to graph force, gravity and motion. Note-taking applications allow students to take notes on the tablets and download teachers’ PowerPoint presentation. The devices also provide access to other classroom equipment, such as graphing calculators and planners.

Teachers say they’re seeing a learning surge that they attribute to tablet use.

In her English class, Larson said she has seen improvement in communication and students’ eagerness to learn. “The reality is these kids have the Internet at their fingertips at all times, and this makes them more investigative,” she said.

“We want kids to be curious, and the iPads allow that to happen.”

Eden Prairie: ‘There’s just a difference’

Central Middle School in Eden Prairie began its iPad pilot program in the fall. Seventh- and 8th-grade students have iPads for use in class and at home.

“We are now a couple of months in,” said Josh Swanson, executive director of technology for Eden Prairie Schools. “All you have to do is walk into a classroom — there’s just a difference.

“At this point, our students are living in a digital environment,” Swanson said. “Learning and instruction have to shift to meet the needs of what our students are going to experience when they leave our system.”

The district is paying for the iPads via its technology budget and money previously used for textbooks and computer lab replacements.

Starting next school year, iPads will continue to be dispersed in Central Middle School, and each student in grades 9 to 12 will receive a MacBook Air laptop.

The vision, Swanson said, is an eventual “complete digital conversion of our district.”

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