Smart Classrooms | Feature

Evolving 1:1

A private school in North Carolina has begun working iPads into its 7-year-old 1:1 computing initiative, but it's not stopping there.

Cannon School students in grades 9 through 12 have been using laptop computers in the classroom for the last seven years. Now, the independent K-12 college preparatory school in Concord, NC, is taking the same step that many other institutions are doing right now by integrating iPads into the classroom.

With about 850 students, the school began providing middle school pupils with iPads at the start of the current school year. Some of the funding for the equipment came from $50,000 raised by parents to help pay for the iPads, plus several Smart Boards and Smart Tables and a new virtual language lab.

Leigh Northrup, middle school director of academic technology at Cannon School, said the institution was considering e-readers and tablet computing for several years as an alternative to traditional textbooks. After talking to representatives from Kindle, Nook and Sony, Northrup said he was concerned about how resistant textbook companies were at the time to the notion of digital texts in the classroom.

"I talked to three major textbook manufacturers and got no help in terms of putting e-readers into our classrooms," said Northrup. "Then the iPad craze hit, and the same textbook companies started jumping onboard, wanting to get involved."

Some Initial Challenges
Northrup would face other challenges in his quest to put digital textbooks and tablets into the hands of Cannon School's students.

The fact that the school was historically PC in nature and hadn't used much Apple technology would also come into play.

"Putting Apple products into our school was definitely a leap of faith," said Northrup, who had the support of Matt Rush, assistant head of school and head of middle school, for the initiative, which kicked off with just two iPads. Northrup and Rush spent two weeks introducing instructors and students to the new devices, and letting them know that "if it's not the iPad, some other type of tablet will revolutionize the classroom."

The school's IT director wasn't convinced and was particularly concerned about available bandwidth and the need to support an additional crop of mobile computers on campus.

"We pretty much just asked him to trust us on this one," said Rush, "and to let us experiment with the concept to see how it would go."

iPad in the Classroom
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, teachers at Cannon School use iPads across various disciplines and for a wide range of classroom projects and lessons. A seventh-grade science teacher, for example, takes her iPad-toting students outside to explore the world around them, to take notes, and to surf the Internet in her "outdoor classroom."

A foreign language teacher uses iPads to record lessons that show instructors pronouncing certain words and prompting students to follow along, while science students use the devices to do virtual dissections. History teachers use Google Earth on the iPads when conducting geography lessons, and English instructors use the tablets to distribute writing prompts to students, who then complete their assignments on their iPads.

With about three classroom sets of iPads, and more coming online in the near future, Rush said, the school could soon augment its current 1:1 laptop program--which has been in place since 2003--with tablet PC computers, iPads, or a combination of the two, at the middle school level.

Northrup said the simplicity of the new technology, the device's small size and "always on" status, make it especially attractive for the school environment. "Right now, our goal is to get to a 1:1 tablet or iPad program for the middle school, where these devices seem to work particularly well," said Northrup. "Students who are 11 to 14 years old really like that instant gratification of being able to turn on a device and immediately begin exploring the Great Wall of China."

Continuing the Evolution
Northrup said the school, which has been largely PC-based in the past, is also interested in exposing students to different computing platforms in order to prepare them for college and the work world. "We want them to be able to handle Excel spreadsheets, work on MacBooks, or use iPads," said Northrup, "as opposed to being one-trick-ponies."

Calling their institution a "frontrunner when it comes to technology," Northrup and Rush said there are more IT projects on Cannon School's agenda. Tablet PCs could soon be introduced at the high school level, said Rush, as more of the school's software is moved into the cloud, where students and teachers will be able to access it and use it without having to install programs on their individual computers.

Northrup said the school also plans to install more Smart Tables and Smart Boards in its classrooms, plus purchase additional iPads for use by its fourth-grade classes, to ensure a smoother transition into middle school. He said the projects all fall in line with the school's mission to "stay on the leading edge--but not the bleeding edge--of technology."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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