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School board approves high school iPad pilot at North

SALISBURY — Looking ahead to the end of Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ second three-year lease on Apple devices, the school board voted Thursday to approve a pilot program that could change technology use at high schools across the district.

The program will provide each North Rowan High School ninth- and 10th-grader with an iPad Gen6, a change from the MacBook Air 11 now in use.

According to Chief Technology Officer David Blattner, the change came about as the school explored the charter-like flexibilities available through the district’s status as a renewal school. As educators explored flexibilities in curriculum, they set goals to implement challenge-based learning that would increase real-world learning.

These types of lessons, often including pictures, videos and other media, are difficult to craft or facilitate through laptops, Blattner said.

So the school’s teacher-led design team made a request that Blattner said presented a pivotal opportunity for the school system’s technology department.

“The current product at our high schools, the MacBook Air 11, doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “We need to start thinking about what could be in that place.”

An iPad was one possibility. The switch, if adopted across all high school grades and all campuses, could provide a savings as the system looked at its next technology lease.

But one question needed to be answered: “Can a high schooler do what they need to do with an iPad? That’s the question, and that’s kind of what this pilot is trying to explore,” said Blattner.

North Rowan’s pilot program will provide one-to-one iPads for all ninth- and 10th-grade students as well as teachers. It will also include styluses and keyboards for all — though styluses will initially be offered in classroom sets and kept on campus.

Keyboards will also be in classroom sets for ninth-graders; 10th-graders will have a device assigned to them for take-home use.

Blattner said the program is also structured with several contingencies in place: enough keyboards to send home with ninth-graders if it becomes necessary; four carts of 25 laptops to be kept on site; and existing laptops held on reserve should the iPads not work out as planned.

“If something goes horribly wrong, we can go right back to what we’re used to,” said Blattner. “We’re really guarding the instructional program while we do this. We’re minimizing the risk.”

North Rowan High School Principal Meredith Williams said she feels confident the switch will be successful.

“When our Apple representatives come to visit, none of them work on laptops; they all bring their iPads,” Williams said.

“The world is becoming more mobile. That’s the direction that the technology is moving,” she said. “The iPads are becoming more and more efficient for people to use for that day-in, day-out work.”

This, she said, is why the question of whether an external keyboard would be necessary is so interesting. Older generations that used only keyboards found the concept of moving beyond the device confounding, but the current generation is “able to adapt to that,” Williams said.

School board Chairman Josh Wagner agreed that the portability of iPads is preferable.

“For work, I have an iPad with a keyboard, and I prefer that to a laptop,” Wagner said.

In the end, the school board approved the purchase of 365 iPad Gen6s, 365 Logitech keyboard cases, and 365 Logitech crayons or styluses for a total cost of just over $238,500.

The purchase will be funded through an outstanding rebate from Spectrum for network services so that it won’t affect the current budget, Blattner said.

“This is probably one of the best examples we have so far of how this renewal process can work from the classroom up to the district and then all the way back down to the classroom,” said Williams. “It was our teachers who … started the conversations, then with the help of the district coming alongside these teachers who were thinking outside the box, we got this flourish of opportunity for our students. Our teachers are really excited about it.”

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