3 schools will use iPods in classrooms

Students at three Ashland schools will use district-issued iPods to study science and reading this fall, the superintendent said Monday.

The district spent about $50,000 on 150 Apple iPod Touch devices, which will be used in science classes at Ashland High School and in first- and second-grade classes at Bellview and Walker elementary schools during reading lessons, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

"We really are rethinking what we're doing with technology," she said. "This is something that will be more affordable for us than regular computers and get us closer to the one-computer-for-every-student goal we have."

The School Board agreed to set aside $50,000 in the district's general fund budget for purchasing new technology and decided to use it on the iPods, Di Chiro said. Each batch of 30 comes with an Apple laptop for the teacher and a portable charging station.

Administrators originally requested twice as much funding for technology, but the district halved the amount after reduced state funding forced them to make budget cuts, she said.

Students and teachers will be able to download educational applications to the handheld computers. District officials haven't yet decided which educational apps the students will use, but there are thousands to choose from, Di Chiro said.

The portable Internet devices also can be used to play music, videos and games, but they cannot be used to make phone calls or write text messages.

Teachers will be trained to use the iPods Aug. 23-25.

Di Chiro, who uses an iPhone to manage district business, said she believes the district should embrace new technology. Late last month she attended a four-day conference in Denver about using technology in education, and left even more convinced that using iPods was a step in the right direction, she said.

"I was really impressed and I thought this isn't normally something we would allow kids to do, but maybe we should," Di Chiro said of an interactive lecture she attended at the conference, which involved a Twitter-like application.

Di Chiro said she hasn't seen any conclusive evidence that frequent Internet use shortens children's attention spans, as some technology critics maintain. She said research shows embracing technology in the classroom helps students learn by piquing their interest and providing an environment that more closely mirrors the technology-laden one outside the classroom.

"Technology is always a tool and that's what we need to remember," she said. "We don't implement it because of the gee-whiz or whiz-bang factor. Research very strongly supports that utilizing digital tools enhances student learning."

Although technology-related behavior problems, such as sexting or online bullying, could arise when students begin using handheld computers in the classroom, Di Chiro said the technology isn't the root of the problem.

"It's like any other misbehavior and we have to make sure that if that does happen, that it's a learning opportunity for our kids, so they understand if they do those things that it's not appropriate and we'll need to redirect them," she said.

Di Chiro thinks increasing technology use in classrooms may help reduce behavior problems.

"My real belief is, when kids are highly engaged and interested in what we're doing in school, misbehavior is almost eliminated," she said.

She is contemplating recommending that the district allow students to use their own smartphones in class, instead of making them turn off their cell phones, as the current policy requires. Di Chiro is also exploring the idea of letting students use a Twitter-like program to write short messages during a teacher's presentation, to ask questions, provide feedback or take notes.

The lecture Di Chiro attended at the International Society for Technology in Education conference that used a Twitter-like program made her realize real-time messaging could be useful in classrooms, she said.

"It's like texting in a controlled environment and it's not anonymous," she said. "I could really see teachers using this to get feedback from students. I was very impressed and I went into it being fairly skeptical."

Di Chiro expects handheld computers to become ubiquitous in classrooms soon, and believes that within the next five years, the district will be purchasing only e-textbooks, as it phases out paper versions.

"I'm sure that within five years that's where we'll be, because it will be such a money saver," she said.

The district also purchased Promethean ActivBoards this summer for some classrooms at Helman and Walker elementary schools, as well as Ashland middle and high school classrooms. The boards, which were installed in all Bellview classrooms last year as part of a pilot project, look like white boards, but are computerized and allow students to interact with lessons.

The boards in the elementary school classrooms were paid for with federal Title 1 funds, Di Chiro said. Bond money and district discretionary funds were used to purchase the boards at the middle and high school, she said.

Because Helman first- and second-grade teachers will be learning to use the ActivBoards, she said they will not use iPods this year.

"We don't really want teachers to have to worry about learning two different technologies in one year," she said.

Di Chiro expects the boards will be installed in all district classrooms in coming years.

If the iPods are successful in helping students learn, she said the district may purchase more of them.

"We're studying this to see how it works for us," Di Chiro said. "We would never just wholesale implement something without some good data and research behind it."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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