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Pros and cons of iPads in school

After the pilot year of the Green Acres School iPad Program, about 86.1 percent of families who responded to a year-end survey felt positively about the program. Here are some pros and cons they listed:

Pros:
- Bottomless access to knowledge
- No lugging around pounds of books
- Engages the students more in education and curriculum
- Gives parents greater visibility of students’ lessons
- iPad programs and apps enrich the curriculum
- Integration of technology into regular work

Cons:
- Access to “too much” information is an easy distraction
- Children with different learning styles might need book and paper methods
- Recreational use of the iPad; parents must monitor closely
- Inability to easily tell if student is working or playing
- “My child is obsessed with the iPad”
- More time glued to a screen

Before this year, Joie Chen would have never found her son huddled in a corner, reading a book.

Now, it happens all the time. Evan Goldberg, 12, will be so entranced by a story on his iPad, he will bump into the walls of their Bethesda home as he walks and reads, his mother said.

While some parents were concerned when Green Acres School in Rockville gave each of its fifth- and sixth-grade students an iPad this year, most now say that it has excited their children’s interest in school and enhanced their learning.

Due to the success of the pilot program, the private school, which has about 305 students in prekindergarten to eighth grade, will expand it to all of its approximately 140 middle school students, said Neal M. Brown, head of school.

“It’s not really about the iPad, it’s about building a facility with technology, and using technology to give kids the opportunity to build their skills, and the opportunity to pursue their passions,” Brown said.

The school began exploring the idea in spring 2011 as a way to give students more access to computers. The school had about 32 computers in two labs, and the start-up time was taking away from valuable instruction time, said Connie Coker, a teacher at the school.

Some parents were hesitant about the pilot program at first — the children were able to take the iPad home every night; teachers and parents would need to keep a close eye on what the students were doing with the devices. The school sent out recommended guidelines, instructing parents to set time and content restrictions for their children.

“Parents were worried that they will not be able to keep their kid off of it,” Chen said.

The iPads cost about $550 each, with an additional $50 each for applications, insurance and maintenance, Coker said — or $37,800 for 63 students last year.

E-texts replaced textbooks in most classes. Brown said the cost was not substantially more than what is normally spent on textbooks and technology.

Curriculum did not change, but, rather, teachers found lessons to expand it, Coker said.

“The content stayed the same, but the access, the efficiency and the products our students were able to create were exponentially better because of the time,” she said.

For one lesson, students took pictures of leaves on the school campus with their iPads, and then used an application that helped them identify what kind of tree a leaf came from.

Evan, who will be in seventh grade next year, said he enjoyed a lesson in which he was able to make a movie in Spanish about natural disasters, with the programs iMovie, Script and Pages.

If Evan didn’t have an iPad for school next year, he would be OK with that, he said.

“But I wouldn’t be as excited for school,” he added.

Evan is a much stronger reader now, Chen said, although she added that she never will know if that is because of the iPad or because his interest in reading grew.

Brown said he sees his school providing technology for the school’s students in the future, whether it be iPads or other products.

“At Green Acres, we do not want to use technology just to use technology, but we don’t want to put our heads in the sand ... these kids are growing up in a world where this is how people communicate.”

jbondeson@gazette.net