Will Paul iPad program last?

The Idaho elementary school is unsure if or how it will continue to issue tablets to students next year.

IDAHO EDUCATION NEWSMay 22, 2013 

First-graders work on spelling and phonics via iPad at Paul Elementary School. The iPad program has brought many favorable reviews, but concrete evidence of improved test scores is lacking so far.

KEVIN RICHERT — Idaho Education News

Students in Ashley Johnson's fifth-grade class have been using individually issued iPads to produce video papers on matter, volcanoes and the pros and cons of school uniforms.

But when these fifth-graders leave Paul Elementary School for West Minico Middle School in the fall, they will go to a school with fewer devices than students. "I'm excited for next year, but I'm kind of going to miss my iPad," fifth-grader Liberty Schaeffer says.

Paul Elementary may face an iPad predicament of its own next fall. Five months after receiving the one-to-one devices, financed through a one-year grant, the program is in jeopardy.

THE CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE

If you tour Paul Elementary - as many Idaho teachers and administrators already have done this year - you'll see iPads fully integrated into the classroom experience. In Angela Bovee's kindergarten class, the commotion of class activity is punctuated by the music and voices of applications that teach spelling and phonics. In Johnson's class, students eagerly show off video reports and praise their favorite apps.

None of the apps are games. The kids just think they're games, Principal Colleen Johnson said.

The iPads are used to help students learn at their own pace, in their own way. First-graders in Tiffany Galloway's class can choose a number-line app or a "butterfly" app that allows them to drag butterflies into animated nets; the apps drill the same addition and subtraction skills. In fifth grade, advanced students can continue working on videos, incorporating more information into projects, rather than having to wait on classmates.

The iPads are used to encourage collaboration. When Galloway's first-graders finish illustrating a story they've read, their drawings can be displayed on a high-definition screen. Carolyn Monson's third-graders use iPads and the HD screen to show their work, as the class goes over approaches to solving math word problems. The fifth-grade school uniform videos were done in groups of four.

THE FUNDING QUESTION

When members of the state's education reform task force came to Twin Falls in April, Josi Christensen — a mother with two children in Paul Elementary — showed up to urge the state not to fund Paul's iPad pilot program.

For 2013-14, funding is the $244,000 question surrounding the program.

A one-year grant from Park City, Utah-based iSchool Campus covered the first year of three-year leases of Apple equipment. It also paid for the first year of three years of technical support and professional development..

The Minidoka County Joint School District was forthright about its financial situation, though. "We do not have the general fund to sustain (this program), and that was known upfront," Superintendent Scott Rogers said.

So the contracts contains a contingency: If the state does not fund Paul's pilot, the project's fate rests in iSchool's hands. The company could extend its grant, or end the program and collect the equipment.

Rogers hopes Paul will receive a state grant or continued backing from iSchool.

Follow Kevin Richert's education blog at IdahoStatesman.com.

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