USD 232 to consider introducing Apple devices in K-5 classrooms

Leah Wankum - December 3, 2019 11:00 am
USD 232 students in 6th grade and above have been using Macbooks this year. The district will consider introducing iPads and Macbooks in elementary classrooms for the 2020-21 school year. Photo courtesy of USD 232

USD 232 is planning to introduce devices into elementary classrooms next school year, possibly in the form of iPads and/or Macbook Airs.

Pending school board approval, the purchase and introduction of Apple devices for K-5 classroom use would become part of the school district’s overall strategy of using technology as a resource and tool for teachers and students.

Beginning this school year, the district already moved forward with purchasing Macbook Airs for individual student use in grades 6-12. Students had been using Dell laptops in previous years. Some of those laptops are still in use, but most have been returned once the lease agreements ended.

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The school board in March had approved the acquisition of 4,250 student MacBooks for secondary students in grades 6-12, plus 600 teacher devices in K-12 classrooms. The cost is $1.175 million annually and good for a four-year lease. The district’s financial source for the implementation of new technology is its capital outlay fund.

Joseph Kelly, director of curriculum and instruction, said that from the time he arrived at the school district three years ago, he had heard that teachers felt “limited” and needed access to more technology so they could be innovative in their teaching.

“This was driven a lot by our staff and listening to them and hearing what their needs were,” Kelly said.

Pilot study of different devices

During the school year 2018-19, the district came up with a process by which teachers could pilot devices in secondary classrooms, Kelly said. These included Dell laptops (already in use), Apple Macbook Air laptops and iPads.

Macbook Airs were the choice for the district’s “one device per learner” initiative at the secondary level. Informing this decision was the USD 232 Technology Committee, a 25-member group of teachers, parents, administrators and students. Over the past two school years, this standing committee has been developing technology standards and goals for teachers and students.

As part of the school district’s purchase of new computers in secondary schools, the district also built in the cost for professional development, Kelly said. The district has had certified Apple trainers visit and instruct teachers starting last spring. That training has continued into the fall.

In addition, the district hired two educators to serve as additional district instructional specialists. The new staff recently received Apple-certified training in Chicago and Cupertino and can now provide that training in-house to faculty and staff.

The professional development for teachers was built into the total cost for new technology this school year, coming to a total of $64,820. Funding for the two additional positions is coming from the district’s general fund.

At this point, the school district and committee have not decided what combination of devices they would recommend introducing to elementary classrooms. The committee’s original recommendation was to purchase iPads for grades K-2 and Macbook Airs for grades 3-5, but the committee may reevaluate when it meets again in February before making a final recommendation to the school board in a few months. The devices will be for classroom use only.

District spokesperson Alvie Cater

Alvie Cater, district spokesperson, said technology is an expense the district “has planned and prepared for.”

“Technology, in and of itself — when you talk about educational technology — computer devices are not the key to academic success,” Cater said. “It is a tool and resource, but you still have to have good instruction, and you have to have teachers who build strong relationships with students to have a learning environment that supports students growing and achieving their very best.

“Our classrooms are still going to be about hands-on learning [and] face-to-face social interaction. We want all children to have opportunities to learn, explore, play and communicate through a multitude of approaches, and one of those approaches is a use of technology.”

The board of education may consider purchasing devices for elementary classrooms in March 2020. Pending board approval, the district would implement devices for elementary classrooms in the 2020-21 school year. On that schedule, professional development would begin in spring 2020.

“I think technology, in today’s education environment, it’s more of an expectation than it is a luxury,” Cater said. “And I don’t mean to minimize that in a way that lessens the impact of the cost of technology. But to simply put it, it’s part of doing business now. We have to prepare our students for career and college and unfortunately — or fortunately — a lot of that is infused in technology. So we have to make sure that they’re strong digital citizens and feel comfortable using technology in their day-to-day life.”

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