Wednesday, January 05, 2011

An Ipad in Every Pot

I would expect that some people would have strong opinions (both ways) about this NYT article about the increased use of Ipads in schools.  Here, I'll just pull some uber-excerpts for you, and let readers go to town on their own (note - these quotes have been pulled from the article - they are not contiguous. I alternated text colors to distinguish the block quotes).

"ROSLYN HEIGHTS, N.Y. — As students returned to class this week, some were carrying brand-new Apple iPads in their backpacks, given not by their parents but by their schools. 

A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems. 

As part of a pilot program, Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students..."

"Technological fads have come and gone in schools, and other experiments meant to rev up the educational experience for children raised on video games and YouTube have had mixed results. Educators, for instance, are still divided over whether initiatives to give every student a laptop have made a difference academically. 

At a time when school districts are trying to get their budgets approved so they do not have to lay off teachers or cut programs, spending money on tablet computers may seem like an extravagance. 

And some parents and scholars have raised concerns that schools are rushing to invest in them before their educational value has been proved by research..."

"Daniel Brenner, the Roslyn superintendent, said the iPads would also save money in the long run by reducing printing and textbook costs; the estimated savings in the two iPad classes are $7,200 a year..."

" Roslyn administrators also said their adoption of the iPad, for which the district paid $56,250 for the initial 75 (32-gigabyte, with case and stylus), was advancing its effort to go paperless and cut spending. In Millburn, N.J., students at South Mountain Elementary School have used two iPads purchased by the parent-teacher organization to play math games, study world maps and read “Winnie the Pooh.” Scott Wolfe, the principal, said he hoped to secure 20 more iPads next school year to run apps that, for instance, simulate a piano keyboard on the screen or display constellations based on a viewer’s location. 

“I think this could very well be the biggest thing to hit school technology since the overhead projector,” Mr. Wolfe said. 

The New York City public schools have ordered more than 2,000 iPads, for $1.3 million; 300 went to Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx, or enough for all 23 teachers and half of the students to use at the same time. 

More than 200 Chicago public schools applied for 23 district-financed iPad grants totaling $450,000. The Virginia Department of Education is overseeing a $150,000 iPad initiative that has replaced history and Advanced Placement biology textbooks at 11 schools. And six middle schools in four California cities (San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno and Riverside) are teaching the first iPad-only algebra course, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt..."

"But technology advocates like Elliot Soloway, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, and Cathie Norris, a technology professor at the University of North Texas, question whether school officials have become so enamored with iPads that they have overlooked less costly options, like smartphones that offer similar benefits at a fraction of the iPad’s base cost of about $500. 

Indeed, many of the districts are paying for their iPads through federal and other grants, including money from the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program, which administrators in Durham, N.C., are using to provide an iPad to every teacher and student at two low-performing schools. 

“You can do everything that the iPad can with existing off-the-shelf technology and hardware for probably $300 to $400 less per device,” Professor Soloway said..."


disclosure: I have no position in AAPL


Onlooker said...

Mixed feelings about this. (Note: your last excerpt is a repeat from above.)

On the one hand the use of this kind of paperless technology is coming at some point. It allows for a more dynamic learning environment and up-to-date information. And the paperless savings are valid, though I'm skeptical of the net savings quoted.

But is that necessary in elementary school? What is the life span of these iPads going to be? You can only imagine the abuse they'll take from youngsters. And the rush to buy the iPad vs. a cheaper alternative just reeks of govt spending that is less than efficient, to say the least. I'm sure they're getting a very hard sell from Apple.

As a loose analogy: Just as it may be smart and inevitable that I will end up with solar panels on my house (or other green tech options), it's not economical yet. I'm better off waiting a bit until the costs come down and the technology is improved before investing in it.

And in this budget constrained world, what are the choices that are being made to allow these purchases? It really up to the locals, of course. And if the fed govt is subsidizing this; well, we're tapped out folks, in case they haven't noticed.

Mrs Big Show said...

With my experience (4 months from graduating with a Master of Arts in Education) there are a few things I want to add to the discussion…
The ipads are a tool to help students 1)relate the material to their life outside the classroom, which makes learning occur, and 2) allows for educators to have many different ways to teach material. Think Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory – learning styles and preferences based on intelligences such as visual, auditory, special, etc…
These tools are paid for by a grant. Some administrator spent the time and energy to get the resource for the students, which almost always is at a school district with money - the administrators are not spending their time with issues like bullying/violence, poverty, or meeting adequate yearly progress goals (AYP). This is no different than the “rich schools” with the fancy libraries, computer labs, gyms, etc …just another resource.
Forget about being green – reduction of textbooks – that’s just marketing b.s. It is easier and cheaper for the publisher to sell textbooks electronically, at a time when these companies are struggling. As far as the schools, think about meeting a student where they are in their interests and strengths…a high school kid is much more likely to pick up an ipad to read a chapter in a textbook than the actual book! (This only makes me want to rant KD style on kids’ use of technology and lack of social skills!)
These thoughts, my conclusion is a (dramatic) thought of a widening of the gap of education and thus ability and wealth in the country. Nothing like separation of class and wealth beginning – and possibly being harvested in – the education system in our country.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I had the idea a few months ago to use my iPad to get my 7 year old daughter to practice her math facts, and I have to say it is working quite well. Although I am not anxious to get my kid more "screen time" and less "IRL time" as a general rule, and I restrict significantly the amount of time in a week that she can watch tv, play the Wii and other technology things in favor of getting outside and playing, reading an actual book, etc., the bottom line is that an interactive, "cool" technology like the iPad can be a tremedous help in getting kids interested in doing their schoolwork. Just being able to push buttons, drag the screen around, and generally me much more "immersed" in the learning process, my kid will happily do 300 math facts playing an interactive math game on the iPad, whereas it would probably take me 3 or 4 months to get her to do 300 math facts on her own on a piece of paper sans iPad.

I say it's a great idea. Restrict it, but we have to do something to get kids in this country better at their critical reading and writing and math skills.

Anonymous said...

My wife is a teacher and I strongly echo Mrs. Big Show. The schools that get these are the ones that really don't "need" them, whereas the schools that don't get them are exactly the ones that need them, but yet, both schools are held to the same standard. Not too long ago, here in Georgia a rural school district sued the state system and used the example of the wealthy school systems in Atlanta having enough excess money to buy every student in the system a laptop but yet this rural system couldn't get funded to upgrade their computer lab, and again, still held to the same academic standards. By no means am I some whiny bleeding heart, but if this does become the new trend (more money is spent on new trends in education than you could imagine, only to be abandoned a few years later) it will be interesting to see if the past distribution checks remain.

Kid Dynamite said...

Anon, Mrs. Big Show: the article specifically mentioned:

"Indeed, many of the districts are paying for their iPads through federal and other grants, including money from the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program, which administrators in Durham, N.C., are using to provide an iPad to every teacher and student at two low-performing schools. "

that certainly sounded like not-rich districts getting the benefit... Of course, the article led of with Roslyn, which in all likelihood is an extremely wealthy district.

Anonymous said...


Oddly enough, you have to meet certain standards (AYP for one, as Mrs. BS pointed out) to be eligible for these grants, and as you can imagine, it's a lot harder for districts in low economic and social districts to do. Again, channeling Mrs. BS, in order to get a lot of grants the school basically has to have an administrator work on getting through the application and follow up process almost full time, which again, the poorer districts can't do.

Not arguing, just saying.

Kid Dynamite said...

Anon - all I'm saying is that the article says that LOW PERFORMING schools in NC are getting IPads for every student and teacher. I'm assuming that the low performing schools are not the wealthiest ones. I'm guilty of that much, but I don't think it's a bad assumption.

aside, here's what I think: like Onlooker's initial comment said: i think that if RichTownUsa wants to pay for this, or anything else, via higher taxes, that's a choice that the citizens have every right to make. Somehow, i kinda hate the idea of Federal funds going to this - and yet, when I say that it results in the exact problem multiple people mentioned - that my "rule" allows only IPADs for the rich schools, and can further widen the educational gap.

that's a problem, obviously, and not a desirable outcome: but calling it a problem relies on the base assumption that the IpAD is a fantastic teaching panacea, which is far from fact. I think that's why I also have a problem with Federal funds for it - I think we're dumbing down our teachers and students, to dangerous levels... (simple example: spelling. I have zero doubt that the next generation will not be able to spell as well as the prior generation, simply because of the auto-correct spellcheck that is prevalent. Of course, one could argue the counterpoint that good spelling isn't necessary, precisely BECAUSE of the corrective technology... you can make the same arguments both ways about the ability to read an old school map - and it's potential uselessness as a skill in our digital GPS age).....

note: I am neither a "whiny bleeding heart" nor a technophobe

Mrs Big Show said...

As previously stated & reinforced: the districts applying for, earning, maintaining, and following up on grants are the schools with the money.

As mentioned in the article, the federal money for the North Carolina school is from the Race To The Top Program. This federal program is a unique situation where the STATE went after the federal funding (granted to only nine states), a program that comes with serious strings attached.

Keep in mind, education is a state responsibility, and thus funded by the states. If you are really interested in how the federal government contributes to funding in education, check into The Race To The Top program and even The No Child Left Behind Act. The US Dept. of Ed. has a really bad web site for trying to figure it all out, but there are lots of articles, reviews, and editorials about these programs.

Kid Dynamite said...

MRs. BS - if the wealthy systems are the ones getting the grants, and I definitely believe that's possible, then that's all the more reason to abolish these Federal grants. If wealthy towns want to spend money on their schools, that's their prerogative - they can pay for it via higher taxes. I do, in my town.

If the money isn't getting to the poor systems because they lack the funds or sophistication to file for the grants, that's all the more reason to end the grants.

Anonymous said...

Just to point out quickly, Durham certainly has its poor areas and low performing schools, but also has a very healthy tax base (Duke & the Research Triangle). Using federal money to pay for ipads instead of teachers may be a luxury others do not have.

I would say that it is a good idea for public schools to provide students with this type of technology. Putting everything they need in one place, in a easy-to-use, paper free tablet, could certainly be a boon to both students and teachers alike, in terms of both ease of learning and organizational benefits. However, I would say that buying ipads is unnecessary. Shouldn't there be market by now for cheaper, academically-focused tablets that serve this exact purpose? Couldn't you put everything an elementary/middle/high school student needs (internet, word processing, basic applications) on a far cheaper device?

The idea is good, but it seems like more work needs to be done to get the correct, cost-effective technology in place. A $500 ipad is too nice for the destructive hands of most young whippersnappers.

As for the dumbing down of American students - don't get me started. In a lot of places, 12 years of free schooling is considered a HUGE luxury. Those that have the opportunity to learn and choose not to are SOL (shit outta luck).

I would also say that mandating far more stringent requirements for science, math, mandarin, spanish, etc should be priority #1. But thats another argument.

Jonathan said...

I want to put aside the issue of which schools are worthy of receiving the grants and focus on whether the iPad is actually a good teaching tool.

For certain kids, an engrossing educational video game is an incredibly good teaching tool. I've seen kids who otherwise have no attention span play these games for hours, presumably learning math, geography, science - or even spelling - in the process.

Despite the growing popularity of the Android platform, Apple's App Store is still where all the quality apps go first. I'm no Apple fan boy, but the quality of games for the iPad is much higher than for the other platforms, and I'm sure that holds for the educational games as well.

Of course, I'd bet that it only helps when the kids have parents who will sit with them as they play the games, monitor their usage of the technology, and generally raise them well - e.g., the kids who already are most likely to succeed.

Anonymous said...


Slightly off topic: I don't know if you've ever really looked at how schools operate financially, but it is near criminal. One example: let's say a school districts budget from to state / federal government is 50mm. If they do a really good job financially and only use 45mm, they receive no sort of benefit or atta boy for their prudence. If they spend 51mm, they may get an official eye roll and not too much else. So what do they do? Maybe try and come in a couple million under budget to leave themselves with some play money. That play money allows them to CREATE new positions, build bigger facilities and just generally waste money. Then of course, to maintain these new (and unnecessary) facilities and positions, they of course demand (and get) a bigger budget in the future. And yet, politicians seem to think the education systems just needs more money.

Anonymous said...

Am I alone in thinking a slate and some chalk, or a mini whiteboard and a marker and more emphasis in getting the kids to actually memorize things would be a cheaper alternative? Spend the saved money on art, music, science, and geography classes.

Brilliant minds have done tremendous thinking historically without the benefit of technology. I'm thinking of, say, John Adams (I read David McCullough's biography not long ago.)

For high schoolers, yes, technology items seem good. For kids like my third grader, simpler is better. Let's not forget, when expensive technology tools get dropped or get wet, it's much worse than a book or a paper getting dropped or wet.

I'm sad the schools don't integrate the curriculum across the disciplines using tactile, old-fashioned instruments.