Mobile Computing | Feature

Tower School's 1:1 Program Brings the iPad 2 to the Elementary Classroom

Last spring, Tower School, an independent school in Marblehead, MA, launched a pilot program utilizing tablet computers. The success of the pilot has led the school to start a 1:1 iPad program for students in grades 3 through 8 this coming fall.

Tower's Head of School Peter S. Philip said the time is now to leap in and put his grade 3-8 students at the forefront of the information and technology revolution. Philip pointed to the tablet computer as the tool to get them there.

"We think this is the time and we think this is the beginning of the platform that really is going to bring the information revolution into the hands of elementary school students," Philip said.

The 1:1 program provides students and teachers with an iPad 2. Approximately 300 students will use the tablets in the classroom and at home.

The one major change in infrastructure is a currently in-progress upgrade of the school's wireless network to accommodate a substantial increase in usage. The school's network will have to transition from handling about 100 wireless devices to approximately 400.

iPad Training and Teacher Acceptance
According to Philip, teachers have responded incredibly well to the adoption of the technology.

Tower's grade 3-8 teachers were given an iPad to work with over the summer. Philip explained that the administration has found that the students are very adept with the technology and while training for them remains important, minimal student training is required.

Tower allocated professional development time to iPad training and has set aside future training time as well.  During the summer, many of the teachers have gathered voluntarily to share ideas and tips.

"It is important to note that there are really two levels of training," Philip said. "The easy part is to learn how to use the tablet computer. The more complicated and more rewarding part is to contemplate how this new tool can enhance student learning."

Funding for the Tablets
Tower is providing iPads for most of the kids. Parents are encouraged to purchase their own as the tablets must be returned at the end of each school year. Starting this fall, the students will be required to bring their tablets each day and take them home in the evenings for both homework and charging. The kids are allowed to take the tablets home for vacation as well.

"We chose the iPad after careful consideration because we thought it represented the most widely accepted device with the widest range of applications ready for it," Philip said. "Apple has a head start on this technology and will for another few years."

Philip explained that Tower chose to engage in the leasing program because the terms both constrain the cost and allow for the purchase of new equipment as upgrades become available at the end of the three-year period.

"We have a three year lease with a built in residual value repurchase at the end of the term.  The total lease payments are equal to about 97 percent of purchase value," Tower School's business manager Dean Sidell said. "The company provides an account representative that handles all of the ordering and delivery tracking. We are able to spread the cost of the tablets equally over three fiscal years, both in the budget and in managing our cash flow."

Tower is reallocating other technology spending from its technology budget to pay for this program. The school is funded primarily through tuition but also relies on an endowment and an annual fund drive.

Philip says that technology as applied to schools is changing and Tower School had the choice of whether to wait for the next generation of technology or to leap in and get moving. The pilot program presented results showing that the with tablet technology, the opportunity had been presented to really take advantage of the information revolution for elementary education, Philip explained.

Expanding the Initial Pilot
"We recognized that our school (and probably lots of other schools) needs to update its entire program to prepare students well for a world that will require levels of creativity, collaboration, and flexibility previously unimagined," Philip said.

A third-grade science project last spring showed that the students found the iPad to be valid tools for learning. Philip said the school's decision makers then determined that grade 3 would be the right place to start. The teachers' and students' enthusiasm for the possibilities will make it easier to work together in solving any difficulties that might arise from the adoption of new technology and modes of teaching, Philip explained.

Philip said he does not see the care and maintenance of the tablets as a major area for concern either.

"Just as parents would be responsible for damage their child caused to other school property, so will they be responsible for any damage to school-owned iPads," Philip said. "That said, we have found the iPad to be pretty reliable and resilient to date and we hope that with care and common sense, there will be relatively little of this to worry about."

About the Author

Tad Wayne Taborn is an independent journalist, professor, and screenwriter. He can be reached at [email protected].