(Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 21--The rollout of tablet computers to every Farmington High School student this week was met with excitement, a little reservation and a healthy dose of teenage indifference.
"Are we on the cutting edge or are we the guinea pigs " asked parent Dave Barnes, lightheartedly. His daughter, Heather, was one of nearly 1,900 students to be issued an iPad over the three-day rollout.
Dozens of students and staff volunteered to help families through a 15-minute process of paying for insurance, setting up accounts to download apps and enshrining the devices in protective cases. The distribution of the devices is a milestone for district officials who plan to put a tablet computer in the hands of every student by the end of the school year.
Farmington's technology initiative is one of the state's most ambitious and will cost $3 million over four years in a lease deal with Apple.
The tablet is popular in schools across the nation and is used in a large number of Twin Cities classrooms, but few area schools have committed to the device as strongly as Farmington.
The iPads are at the heart of a district-wide plan to personalize instruction so students who are struggling can get extra help and those who excel can continue to be challenged. School leaders also plan to save money by eliminating the need for things like new textbooks and paper worksheets.
"We can now move ahead with our strategic plan," said Superintendent Jay Haugen.
The district will distribute iPads
to younger students early next year. Students in kindergarten through third grade will not take the tablets home.
Farmington school board members voted Dec. 10 to purchase another 3,545 iPads, the final financial commitment in the district's one-to-one technology plan for 6,700 students. They've also approved a "loan agreement" students and parents must sign that includes insurance and rules for how the devices are used in and out of school.
Freshman Taylor Bramer said students were "split 50-50" on the idea of iPads becoming their new learning platform, replacing things like textbooks and worksheets. "Personally, I think it is a good thing. It will mean less paper and it will be easier," she said.
Senior Devin Poissant, who volunteered to help with the rollout, said there would be a learning curve for teachers and students.
"In some ways it will be a big change and in others it will be a small change," Poissant said. "I think it depends a lot on the student."
Many saw the move as a logical step as technology becomes a bigger part of everyone's lives.
"The way technology moves now days, its not a big surprise," said Jessie Golnick, a senior who received an iPad with her sister Anna, a junior. "I think it will help some kids learn."
Educators across the country have praised the iPad's ability to engage students, but there is little evidence about the device's impact on learning. Farmington leaders plan to track how the tablets affect achievement.
The Golnick sisters agreed the tablets were exciting, almost an early Christmas present, but they also noted that being online so easily could lead to distraction.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Jessie said. "You're giving them this great new way to learn and the ability to be on Facebook and Twitter at the same time."
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress. Read our blog: Ahead of the Class at http://blogs.twincities.com/education/.
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