Farmington School District intends to issue an iPad to all students
by Jennifer Chick
Farmington students are beginning a new learning adventure as the district rolls out a program to issue iPads to every student.
The Farmington School District has made it a priority to purchase an iPad for every student in its 6,700-student district as part of a customized learning program. According to school officials, the district is the largest in Minnesota to attempt a one-to-one program for every student. And last week, the district began distributing those iPads to its 1,848 high school students.
“Our intent is to open the doors for students where the learning experience is fully customizable,” said Charles Duarte, the district’s head of instructional technology. “Since these are personal devices, we can really cater to the needs of each student as compared to laptops.”
The mobility of the iPads, along with a mobile device management system and the ability to easily distribute apps and electronic books that the district endorses, were all factors in Farmington’s decision to lease the iPads for all students.
“It’s trying to create this new system for educating,” said Carl Colmark, the district’s finance director, “the idea being that they have a digital partner who will always be with them.”
Currently, only those students in high school have picked up iPads, which they can take home with them. Each student received an iPad and a Griffin Survivor Case free of charge. Parents had the option to purchase insurance for $28 per device. If parents did not purchase the highly recommended insurance package, they were responsible for the full replacement cost in the case of theft, damage or loss.
The iPads will be turned in at the end of the school year. The devices are on a three-year lease, so in the fall, each student will receive the same iPad again. By this spring, the district will have received all the iPads it has leased. Students in fourth through eighth grades might have the ability to take their iPads home, while kindergarten through third-grade students will only use their devices at school.
The iPad fleet consists of iPad 2s and iPad Minis. The iPads work only on Wi-Fi, which the district has in each of its buildings. Also, a mobile device management system allows teachers to make content available over that system, which students can download at school and view later offline at home if they do not have Wi-Fi access at home.
Duarte said the iPads no only make learning exciting for students, but they present an exciting way to teach so they should open the door for differentiated learning opportunities for kids.
“If teachers have good rapport with the kids and are risk takers and like to have fun, it’s going to be an adventure,” said Rick Yonker, who teaches biology at FHS. “It’s fun. It’s going to work as well as the teachers are willing to be flexible.”
Teachers in the district have had their own iPads since August. Yonker will be using the iPad as a tool to present biology games, conduct research in the middle of class, and supplement discussions on DNA and photosynthesis.
“If you look at the research and people looking at the trends nationally and internationally, this is where it is heading,” he said. “I’m just proud Farmington has taken the lead among metro schools.”
Students also seem excited with the possibilities.
“I think it’s going to be very helpful,” said junior Shaye Jenrich. “I think it’s really going to go far. Some kids might abuse them, but most of us are so excited to do school work on it. … It’s all right there in front of us.”
Senior Jacob Kost is interested to see how it will change the daily classroom life.
Parents like Tony Schackman, whose freshman son, Jon, picked up his iPad last Wednesday night, are concerned how students might use the devices.
“I’m skeptical,” he said. “I’m concerned with the potential abuse of the device.”
He said the iPads allow free access to all that is available on the Internet, and he’s not sure that is what is best for the kids. Duarte said the district has filters in place at the school to keep kids from accessing questionable content, and teachers will be highly vigilant, but he also sees the iPads as a chance to teach responsibility.
“This is a great place to develop what is appropriate for school and in the workplace,” he said.
As students leave high school and head to college or into the workforce, Farmington can help shape how those students can be good digital citizens, he said.
“Our intent is to equip our students with the strategies and skills necessary to know appropriate use,” Duarte said.
The district is also hoping to cut down on the amount of paper used in its buildings once all students receive a device. Parent Kim Sharp thought one of the main reasons the district implemented the iPad strategy was an effort to go green. She just wanted to hear more information about where the district got the money for the program.
“Are they actually going to be for learning or playing?” she asked.
Everyone will be watching, from the School Board to the parents to other districts, as the district rolls this program out for all students.