Future of technology in the classroom focus of Rancho Santa Fe School District board retreat


By Karen Billing

The Rancho Santa Fe School District is taking the first steps toward putting iPads in the hands of many R. Roger Rowe students in the fall. At a technology retreat on April 25, the board discussed how they will move into the future with the use of technology in the classroom.

“The world is changing at such a pace that we have to change with it,” said Assistant Superintendent Cindy Schaub. “If we continue to stand in front of the classroom and talk at students, they’re going to tune us out because that’s not the way they live anymore.”

Schaub said the technology has to enhance the school’s existing program, it shouldn’t be acquiring technology just for technology’s sake.

The district seems to be leaning most toward option two of four options that were presented, which includes 1:1 implementation at the middle school level; six iPads per classroom at the K-6 level; 10 iPads for special education; and one iPad per teacher for a total of 410 iPads.

The cost would be $304,500.

Their ultimate goal is one to one for kindergarten through eighth grade, about 690 ipads.

The plan is to come back to the board with required policy changes at a special board meeting or at the board’s next regular meeting on May 3. They would like teachers to have the equipment over the summer to prepare.

“We want to hit the ground running this summer because this will be a big summer for us,” district superintendent Lindy Delaney said.

Delaney said the district’s funding source for the iPad purchase is the state funds they received last year. They have about $2 million left in state money that needs to be used and is restricted, meaning it can’t be spent on teacher salary or operational needs.

Last week’s retreat also included input from Steve Clemons, assistant superintendent and chief technology officer for Integrated Technology Services at the San Diego County Office of Education, and Greg Ottinger, director of online learning for ITS.

“I’m incredibly impressed with the process you’re going through,” said Clemons. “Being prepared for how the technology is going to be used is critical.”

The biggest mistakes schools have made in implementing new technology is going too big too fast and not having clear goals or outcomes, Schaub said.

They want to ensure that a main key is professional development for teachers as they learn a whole new way of teaching, and learning and making sure that the technology has relevancy in the curriculum and is project based and research driven.

“If we’re putting something in the hands of kids, it has to be valuable and educational, not just cool,” Schaub said.

The district started to look at how mobile learning devices in the classroom might look in the summer of 2011, with a visit to Apple headquarters. In looking at the possibilities, the district conducted a parent survey and implemented 13 iPads in advisory teachers’ classrooms, with student input.

Students said they would like textbooks on iPads, their own devices, portability between school and home, and fewer restrictions while understanding it’s a privilege.

As 75 percent of parents in the survey said they preferred Apple products, the district chose to move forward looking at iPads. Rancho Santa Fe is also a Mac-based district, so it made sense, Delaney said.

Just one example of how the technology was piloted this year occurred at the middle school level where students created e-pubs. Their e-pubs were written reports imbedded with video and graphics, published to teacher Maureen Cassarino’s itunes account. The students wrote 3,000-word reports on topics such as manga, surfing and Korean pop music.

“I’ve never seen eighth grade boys more engaged in a project as they were in this one,” said Cassarino.

Parent Heather Slosar said while she was not against technology, she asked the board to use caution and not just be swayed by new, shiny things.

Slosar likened it to when her family obtained their first microwave and she was so excited to find out what she could do with it. She tried nuking a frozen orange juice container and ended up destroying the microwave.

“All the applications and impacts on test scores are really unproven at this point,” said Slosar. “We need to be careful not to replace the teacher with devices if we’re not ready for it yet.”

Ottinger said Slosar had a good point, speaking about having the right tools to supplement the work that’s being done in the classroom.

“It is shiny and new and we’re being cautious about what are the best pieces,” Ottinger said.

All of the implementation options considered by the board involved one iPad per teacher and 10 iPads for special education but they varied in the amount purchased and how they were distributed.

Option one was the most ambitious option, putting the most devices out there with 462.

It would include 1:1 iPads in middle school and at kindergarten (rolling up each successive year. The “thirds” deployment would be used at the 1-6 grade levels, with six iPads a class at a total cost of $333,100.

The board was concerned about how this program would be viewed by parents, if their students weren’t in an iPad classroom.

“I think it’s very important that we’re equitable,” board president Jim Depolo said.

The $255,900 option three is the board’s least favorite so far, with 1:1 at middle school and one cart of 20 iPads per class level.

“The teacher who doesn’t want to do it doesn’t have to request them and then it becomes a real inequity,” Delaney said.

Option 4 is the least ambitious with 302 iPads: 1:1 at middle school and six per classroom for K-6. It would cost $214,500.

While some districts have tried “bring your own device” programs, Clemons said he hasn’t seen a good implementation of it.

“Classroom management becomes more challenging,” Clemons said, noting that the teacher has to spend time to make sure all the devices can carry the same programs and sometimes troubleshoot older equipment.

It was noted that having a universal device in the classroom works much better, where all the content on the devices is also the same and guarded.

“I do like the idea of saving some money but I do like better the idea of control,” Delaney said. “We want to keep kids safe first and foremost.”

In addition to purchasing iPads, the district also needs a complete tech upgrade.

Each classroom at Rowe has a minimum of seven computers per classroom and their computer fleet must be replaced this year, Delaney said, which will cost about $200,000. Technology director Ben Holbert has made the computers last as long as possible and the equipment is all nine years old.

“The last four or five years I’ve held off on buying anything new,” said Holbert. “The time is now. The one to one stuff doesn’t mean the desktop is dead.”

Holbert said there are still things the desktop computers are needed for such as a full browser, Flash, Compass Learning and MAP testing.

Seltzer raised the issue of content control and safety with the iPads. Holbert said they would be able to install a safe browser and use a district app store with applications vetted and approved by staff.

Slosar also expressed concerns about the wi-fi in the classrooms as she has concerns about radiation. She and her husband worked with the school to develop shields.

“I know I’m not the only one in the community who feels this way, who would be upset if suddenly our young kids were exposed to wireless radiation at school when we work so hard to keep it out of our homes,” Slosar said.

Slosar said she was told after the meeting by Delaney and Holbert that the K-2 children’s iPads would not have wi-fi access, instead the applications would be downloaded by the teacher to the iPads.