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Best Practices: An iPad Lesson

Ipad2012-step0-ipad-gallery-01-normalFor most schools the $500 price tag for a basic iPad is seductive enough to get them to stop buying more expensive notebooks. But this approach misses the point and an opportunity for a revolution in classroom instruction, according to Phil Harding, Technology Integration Coordinator at California’s Val Verde Unified School District. “It’s able to do so many things that the iPad is like a Swiss Army knife for schools.”

Based in Perris, California, the district is located in the Moreno Valley and recently put 860 pads into the hands of teachers. Rather than wait for the start of the new school year, the pads were handed out at the end of the school year. That way, over the summer they could try the iPads out, get familiar with them and experiment with their eventual use in the classroom.

Each iPad was set up with nearly two dozen programs that can streamline classroom activities and open new educational vistas. They each had the basics (like Evernote, iMovie and Pages) as well as some that are more specialized (such as Intelligent Papers and Clicker School). There’s even software for the teacher to control the classroom’s audio and video equipment. 

Of all, Splashtop’s Whiteboard app was the keystone for the deployment because with a classroom projector, the app can substitute for a more expensive touch-board. In daily use, Whiteboard connects wirelessly to a host computer and lets teachers write on their iPad screens and have it projected for the whole class to see. It’s good for everything from showing how to do a geometry proof to analyzing a sentence’s structure. For schools, the app costs $10.

Valverde hardingMost of the classrooms already had the projector, so the purchase was an inexpensive upgrade for the district. “For us, it was an alternative to touch-boards. We’re able to replace a $2,000 projector and board with an iPad and software,” adds Harding. 

Good timing helped make the roll-out of iPads even more enticing. Val Verde bought their iPads just as Apple’s third-generation iPad was coming out and the company cut the price of the older iPad 2 systems that they purchased by $100 per slate.

So the staff would be familiar with the pads and ready to hit the ground teaching at the end of the summer, the district ran several iPad boot camps. The training included work on Whiteboard, Google Docs and a variety of other topics, including a quickie clinic on the tablet’s basic operations and its software. On four summer Fridays, Harding hosted seminars on iPads in the classroom over pizza.

Over the summer, the teachers were encouraged to use the iPads and explore the App Store for educational software add-ons that fit their teaching style, curriculum and students. While they were free to load whatever they wanted onto the iPads, the teachers would have to pay for any commercial apps they installed. “They were app hungry,” recalls Harding. “They could load whatever they wanted to and were encouraged to experiment.”

Val verde splashtopWith the district’s teachers taken care of, the next step at Val Verde will be to roll out iPads to a wider audience. Phase 2 began when the community passed a $178 million bond issue in early July to fund several technology and infrastructure projects throughout the district.

 A major target for the bond money is to bring iPads to Val Verde’s 20,000 students. Rather than a one-to-one arrangement, Val Verde will aim to have one iPad for every four students. They plan to purchase roughly 5,000 pads at the end of 2012 as well as carts for the district’s 21 schools so that the pads can be moved from classroom to classroom and used in strategic learning situations.

“From there,” observes Harding, “it’ll be easy to go to a one-to-one arrangement. Our approach gives teachers a variety of teaching tools and offers a lot of latitude,” he adds.

Whiteboard-Teacher-holding-ipad-with-studentThe bond’s proceeds also covers revamping the district’s WiFi network to fill in its numerous dead zones. That’s because the first thing that a school finds out when a room full of kids and teachers start doing their lessons on iPads is that the network infrastructure quickly gets overwhelmed and data slows to a crawl. With the help of eRate funding, the goal is to have a WiFi access point in each classroom to keep the data – and the teaching – flowing smoothly.

Happily, what starts with replacing an old way of teaching quickly moves to educational innovation, and Val Verde’s teachers are starting to see how tablets can change the way kids learn. For instance, rather than keeping a full set of dictionaries and calculators in each class for students to use as needed, teachers now rely on the pads for these tasks.

It’s just the start because there’s often a Eureka moment when a teacher realizes that education can be dramatically changed and made more personal. This includes everything from giving kids the option of reviewing the day’s lessons online at home to apps that put early readers into the story they’re working through. In other words, education at Val Verde will never be the same.


Val verde elementaryVal Verde Unified School District

Location: Perris, CA

Number of Schools: 21

Number of Students: 20,000

Number of Teachers: 850

Task: Roll out 860 iPads to teachers, then revamp its network infrastructure and set up carts with 5,000 tablets for students to use in class.





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