An iPad for every student? That's the goal for District 214

Peter Duffer begins his AP Economics class at Buffalo Grove High School by telling students to look over the grades from their last test, review a calendar of what is coming up and answer a few discussion questions.

But instead of shuffling papers on their desks, Duffer's students do all that, and more, on their individual iPads.

Instead of telling students to turn the page, Duffer asks them to scroll down. Forgetting to charge the battery has replaced forgetting to bring books to class.

And “I thought I hit ‘submit'” is the new “The dog ate my homework.”

Duffer's students are among about 850 students in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 participating in one of 20 pilot programs experimenting with iPad and the Motorola XOOM tablet computers in the classroom.

Within a few years, every student in District 214 — more than 12,000 of them — will have their own personal iPad is school officials get their way.

“Having a digital device in every kid's hand excites me,” said Keith Bockwoldt, director of technology for the district. “I think we are a leader in this regard. We look at different ways for students to learn in and out of the classroom.”

After Duffer's AP Economics class used iPads for the first time last year, enrollment in the class doubled this year. Duffer said he thinks students are learning more with the new technology.

“They're doing more economics related stuff then ever before, whether they know it or not,” he said.

Although the class does have a textbook, Duffer said most students took it home early in the school year and left it there. With the e-book version loaded onto their iPads, it's always with them.

iPads aren't just being tested in Advanced Placement courses. They're also in use at District 214's Newcomer Center, where students who recently immigrated spend a semester or two learning English before moving on to their local high school.

With 30 students speaking 11 different languages, the iPads have been a convergence point for communication, said Mario Perez, coordinator for the center.

“The coolest thing is to walk in and say ‘Turn on your books,' Perez said.

The students say the iPads are helping them learn English faster and have more fun while doing it.

When Janet Mancera is reading and doesn't understand a word, the 17-year-old from Wheeling can touch the word on the screen and have it instantly translated into Spanish, without interrupting class.

“You have your whole backpack in one thing,” Mancera said.

Since students can take the iPads home with them, Mayte Cruz, 16, of Rolling Meadows, said the device is helping her whole family learn.

Adjusting to the new technology hasn't been seamless, though.

Although younger generations are good at games and social networking, Duffer said students can get frustrated when they didn't know how to do something on the iPad. And completely changing the way he teaches didn't happen overnight either, Duffer said.

“The first year is torture, but the second year is 100 times better,” he said. “Someday this is going to be normal.”

Cost is a primary concern for the district as officials consider putting an iPad in every student's hands. Even after discounts and buying in bulk, iPads will cost about $480 per device.

So far the district has spent $275,000 over the past two years on the tablet pilot programs, but Bockwoldt said it's not yet clear how much rolling iPads out to the entire school body will cost.

“The first thing people ask is ‘How much is it going to cost us?'” he said.

The district expects some savings from moving out some of the thousands of desktop computers across the district and buying iPads instead. Reductions also are anticipated in other technology costs. For example, the district has moved to Google Docs, a free word processing service, to replace the fee-based Microsoft Office.

The district is seeking grants to help defray the costs as well.

Trusting teenagers with the expensive devices also is a concern. Bockwoldt said students must sign an acceptable use policy and can purchase insurance for $35. Students are responsible if a tablet is lost, stolen or damaged.

The cost of apps for several hundred, or later thousands of iPads, could also add up — with some apps costing $4.99 or more — but Bockwoldt said the district tries to find free or less expensive apps.

As for students playing games during class, Duffer said it isn't any different from previous generations whispering or passing notes to one another.

“It's just a different distraction,” he said.

Letting students take iPads home, which other districts including Chicago Public School, don't allow, opens the door for some personal use. District 214, for now, doesn't see that as a problem.

“We know they have their smart phones to access Facebook and other sites, so why don't we teach them the appropriate use,” he said.

The district may roll out iPads for all freshmen at two of its six high schools next year as an expanded pilot program before having all students in the district work with iPads.

“Kids are growing up so differently nowadays,” Bockwoldt said. “We're just trying to provide them with the same technology they might have outside the classroom. If we don't give them these tools, they may fall behind.”

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  Students at the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Newcomer Center in Arlington Heights work with iPads. District 214 is running 20 tablet computer pilot programs in its schools this year to test their uses in the classroom. They hope that within two years every one of the district’s more than 12,000 students will have their own iPad. Brian Hill/
  Mario Perez, coordinator of the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Newcomer Center, work with Janet Mancera, 17, on her iPad. District 214 is running 20 tablet computer pilot programs in its schools this year to test their uses in the classroom. They hope that within two years every one of the district’s more than 12,000 students will have their own iPad. Brian Hill/
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