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Iowa City high schools expand tablet technology

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | AUGUST 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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As technology continues to advance throughout the country, a fairly new technological platform is aiding Iowa City high schools in working toward keeping up with the trend.

For the first trimester of the new academic year, City High, 1900 Morningside Drive, has expanded its iPad collection by 90 devices.

School officials say plans are on pace to push tablet movement in the classroom setting for the coming years at the East Side school.

The initial launch resulted in the availability of 40 iPads through a grant from the Iowa School District Foundation.

While eight of the original 40 were distributed to individual teachers, the remaining served as a traveling set for classes to check out for a month at a time.

Students also have the opportunity to bring the iPads home with them to complete homework assignments.

This school year, with the addition of the new iPads, Terry Coleman, the former vice principal and now athletics director, said teachers can take advantage of expanded checkout periods of six to eight weeks at a time, a jump from the initial four.

During that period, students can also bring the devices home with them for academic purposes, Principal John Bacon said.

Each iPad cost the school $379, with funding deriving from Microsoft settlement dollars and building level funds.

For example, Bacon said the school’s student newspaper, The Little Hawk, uses the iPads to increase its online website while posting updates to the publication’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Last year, science teachers used a method called “crowdsourcing” in which a research question was posted on the Internet, before numerous people add to content, Coleman said.

For example in one class, students studied sea shell size in relation to the sea temperature, he said.

In the school’s business department, instructors also used the iPads to make marketing videos, while physics teachers used them to study motion.

“We will also add a set of iPads in the library for teachers who are not ready to commit to an entire unit but want to explore these devices,” he said in an email.

Last year, the pilot program was designed to test what did and did not work, Coleman said.

For sophomore Autumn Moen, the tablets were utilized in her freshman biology class for a number of interactive learning modules during the last school year.

Across town, West High, 2901 Melrose Ave., is also pushing forth in the technology movement, but it has decided to take a slightly different route than City.

The school, located on Iowa City’s far West Side, has a collection of 80 Barnes and Noble Nook tablets that are used in a similar fashion.

However, teachers have access to just 35 of the devices to check out for interactive modules, lab simulations, and current-event research for various social studies classes.

West High librarian Jill Hofmockel, said the school chose to use Nook tablets because it was able to purchase them at a much cheaper rate than iPads. Each Nook cost just  $150.

The funding also came from a district grant.

The first set of tablets, purchased in early 2012, were used in aiding instruction for students who struggle with reading comprehension.

In all, 25 were placed in the reading-strategies classroom.

For the new school year, West ordered a third set of Nooks, specifically targeted for library use.

Hofmockel said they hope students will use this particular set of 20 to read eBooks. Because the mission is to have the tablets designed for book-like use, library staff are allowing students to check them out individually.

“As a teacher/librarian, I think it is important to realize where kids will live and what their lives will be like when they leave high school,” Hofmockel said. “We’re still accomplishing curriculum and traditional learning, but addressing it in a way that’s more 21st-century.”


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