Merrill Area Public Schools will be putting iPads into the hands of every student in kindergarten through grade 8 during the 2015-2016 school year. Each student will be issued their very own device, as MAPS has a contract to lease over 1,600 iPads from Apple.
MAPS Director of Curriculum & Instruction Michele Jahnke said the 1-to-1 initiative – one device per student – represents a step toward the future of education.
“We have to prepare these kids for the 21st century,” Jahnke said. “There are jobs that don’t even exist yet that we’re preparing these kids for. We’re trying to transform the system.”
Over the summer the priority has been on getting the teaching staff up to speed on the Apple products. Each teacher traded in their old Windows device for a brand new MacBook, and received a two-hour jump start training on how to use it. Over the course of 10 summer training sessions, MAPS had 100 percent teacher participation. Over 150 MacBooks have been deployed to teachers.
“Our focus has been on the MacBook deployment,” said Keshia Mashak, MAPS Technology Integration Director. “Our district has been primarily Windows in the past so the whole transition to Apple is a learning curve and we would like to make sure that teachers have the support and the professional development they need before they’re expected to use this technology with students.”
Staff members in each building have stepped up to be vanguards who will help other staff through the transition to the Apple system. The vanguards had an extra week of training with Mashak and representatives from Apple. They will continue to have monthly meetings to further build their knowledge. Two integration specialists have been hired to support the elementary buildings as well.
“That role is really to help integrate the technology in the classroom,” Mashak said.
Jahnke said she wants to see teachers move past merely using the iPads as a substitute for traditional teaching methods and find innovative ways to use this new tool. Using a flashcard app on the iPad would be an example of substitution.
“We want them to get eventually past that to more creative based things,” Jahnke said. “It’s about what can you do with this tool that you couldn’t do without it.”
The iPads further the district’s goal of creating a personalized learning environment.
“Technology is the tool to create engaging lessons that ultimately support personalized learning,” Mashak said.
“It’s really a change of philosophy,” Jahnke added. “We’ve always been very teacher directed, and it’s really about being student centered. That’s really what personalized learning is about.”
Students still need to meet the standards, but they can move ahead at their own pace or get the extra time they need to reach their goals.
“Sometimes they can be working independently, sometimes they can be in groups, sometimes the teacher can be directing a small group, but it’s not always teacher centered. The students have a bit more voice and choice in the decisions that are made regarding their learning,” Jahnke said.
MAPS is undertaking one of the largest iPad deployments in the state this year. D.C. Everest is the only nearby district also making the transition this school year.
There are districts throughout the state that have already gone K-12 with 1-to-1 iPads. MAPS administrators visited districts with years of experience with 1-to-1 iPads and personalized learning to compare their data.
“It’s just all been very positive,” Jahnke said. “They talked about the student engagement, the ease of the tool, increased enrollment and reduced behavioral problems.”
Last year, MAPS did a pilot project with 1-to-1 iPads at the third grade level and Chromebooks at the fourth grade level.
“It was very motivating and engaging for students,” Jahnke said. “It’s a tool that we used to help with personalized learning for each of the students as well. It was very successful.”
After exploring its options, MAPS went with Apple‘s iPads for K-8. The iPads offer some advantages over Windows devices.
“We felt that our students really deserved the device that could have the most capacity,” Jahnke said. “There are just some really cool interactive ways that the iPad can assist in student learning. When we looked at instructional tools, we just felt the iPad has more to offer to our students. It really provides opportunities for creativity based learning, which the Chromebook didn’t.”
“From a technical standpoint, they last longer, the security is better and the depreciation over time isn’t as great as a Windows device,” Mashak added.
A date has not been set yet to deploy the iPads to Merrill students. Because the devices will ultimately be going home with the students to be used for homework, it is important for the district to have all guidelines in place before that happens.
“We’re really revamping our responsible use policies,” Mashak said. “It’s going to be a book that students, teachers and family members can reference if they have any questions. It’s in development right now. That’s why we didn’t want to rush to deploy these 1,600 devices. We knew there needed to be guidelines in place.”
“That information will come out in plenty of time before the devices come home to make sure we have those questions answered for parents,” Mashak added. “We’re hoping to build some capacity within our staff so that we can offer some trainings for the community and parents so that they’re more in tune with what the kids are using these devices for. One of the common misconceptions is that they’re used strictly for games and to keep the kids occupied, and that’s not the case at all.”
“We’re really trying to develop a great communication plan,” Jahnke added. “We really want to make sure parents and families are informed as well.”
Pre-K and Merrill High School students are not getting 1-to-1 devices this year. Further study is needed to determine which tools will best fit the needs at those grade levels, Jahnke said. Going district wide with 1-to-1 is slated for next school year.
“This would be the year to kind of explore what their needs would be and see what type of platform they would like to go with,” Jahnke said.
The lease is for three years on the iPads and four years on the MacBooks. The total cost to the district will be $1,239,777 for the term of the lease. The student devices account for $879,550 of that, plus $9,427 interest. The staff Macbooks are $359,366, plus $8,064 interest. The first payment is $305,000 this year.
The district was already facing the expense of replacing the staff Windows devices, noted Brian Dasher, MAPS Director of Finance.
“We were way behind on tech refresh anyway,” Dasher said. “The majority of the staff devices that we had were probably five to 10 years old, so they were coming up on needing to be replaced regardless. So now we don’t have to worry about that for K-8 now for another four years. With the iPads for the kids we’re reducing printing. So, we’ll be able to leverage some savings elsewhere in the district.”
Mashak added that the iPad lease is worth the cost based on its benefit to students and also presents other opportunities for savings.
“It provides students with easy access to the most accurate information,” Mashak said. “It’s easy to go drop (money) on text books that go out of date within several years. Do we have this cost? Yes. But there are other things we’re going to be able to cut back on because we have them – printing, text books, stuff like that.”
To cut down on paper and printing, staff will be exploring an electronic workflow. Even parts of the curriculum can become based on digital.
“We’re looking at elementary math curriculum now and the focus really is on the digital resource of it,” Jahnke said. “You don’t have all these huge kits with all these books and workbooks that you used to have. It’s all digitally based which is a huge savings to the district.”
There will still be computer labs available in the buildings. The iPads are currently not the ideal device for the state testing the schools are required to administer.
“At this point we’re keeping a lab in every building, for testing purposes mainly,” Jahnke said.