Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oakland Elementary School in Royal Oak puts iPads in all classrooms

Oakland Elementary School in Royal Oak puts iPads in all classrooms

ROYAL OAK — Mobile devices usually are discouraged — even taken — from students in classrooms, but not Oakland Elementary School.

The PTA, teachers and district officials pooled their money to buy 38 iPads for $15,000, making Oakland the first public school in Royal Oak to put electronic tablets into every classroom.

Other elementary schools will follow.

“The future really is tablet-based and our students need to get acclimated,” said Oakland Principal Gary van Staveren, who went with staff to visit schools in Utica and Troy that are using the technology.
The learning possibilities put at the fingertips of children are endless with educational applications that are interactive, three-dimensional, loaded with visuals like videos and high-definition maps, and just plain fun.

“I think these hand-held devices are going to increase motivation to learn and maybe even come to school,” van Staveren said.

Oakland teachers have “appy hours” after school to share what they are finding on the Internet to reinforce lessons in math, reading and writing. The school is focusing on these subjects first.

“The teachers have autonomy to see what works” van Staveren said, adding that the iPads are being used to supplement not replace instruction.

However, he isn’t so sure about the future of textbooks, which he thinks could be on the verge of a phase-out period in as little as five years.

Classic literature, best-selling books, ancient history, historical documents, math drills, quizzes — there are tens of thousands of apps for that and more.
The Oakland PTA and staff raised $11,000 of the $15,000 in the last two years through charity poker benefits and pie and entertainment book sales to buy three iPad 2s for every class.

The students, even kindergartners, are using the 16-gigabyte devices. For some, it’s their introduction to technology. They don’t have computers or access to the Internet at home, van Staveren said. He was concerned about the digital divide between classmates as well as Royal Oak students overall competing in the future for college scholarships and job openings.

“This started because I believe technology gaps exacerbate achievement gaps,” van Staveren said.

In addition to the iPads, the wireless access system at Oakland is being expanded, and each classroom is being equipped with ceiling-mounted projectors and Apple TV receivers. Headphones and protective covers are being purchased for each iPad so students can work on customized digital lessons without bothering each other.

The devices can be used to match the needs of each student with individualized learning activities, van Staveren said.

Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said the district has spent a lot of money — about $2.1 million in the last year — on repairs at the 89-year-old school and it’s time to move forward with instructional technology.