The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 25, 2013

St. Peter Schools boosting students' technology use

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — Technological improvements in the classroom are rendering old tools and practices obsolete.

Smart Boards replaced chalkboards. Laptops are replacing notebooks and paper. Skyping is replacing letter-writing with partner classrooms across the world.

John Lustig, technology director for St. Peter Public Schools, knows that trend is going to continue. He even sees textbooks as becoming a thing of the past.

To stay on top of the changes, St. Peter Schools wants to get an iPad in the hands of every student. Recently, the School Board approved the Saints Digital Learning Initiative, the first phase of which will cost $175,000 and be rolled out this fall.

In September, all ninth-graders will be issued their own iPad Mini, and all other grades will have carts of iPads to share. (The district now has four iPad carts for all classrooms to share). The ninth-graders will keep their iPads as they progress through high school, and incoming freshmen will be issued new iPads each year.

In four years the plan is for all high school students to have personal iPads to use in school and to bring home.

“The thing the iPad does is it allows for more personalization, and it allows for the types of activities students are used to in their daily lives (like using) their mobile phones,” Lustig said.

Middle school English teacher Paulette Topel — who had students use iPads Monday to work on historical fiction projects — said she expects the devices to save time due to added efficiency.

“I think it might save time, but I think really the big change will be how the time is used,” she said. “I’m actually curious to see how it changes things.”

Lustig said laptops are less portable, and youth respond more to “gesture-based interaction,” or touch screens. The technology also easily allows the district to stay on top of current apps that can easily be downloaded, he said.

The iPads are also versatile. They serve as e-readers, creation and communication devices, research tools, cameras and recording devices.

“It’s not so much a tool as much as it is a toolbox,” Lustig said.

Not so far into the future, Lustig thinks the devices could also replace backpacks full of textbooks.

“The tablet model seems to be the direction textbook companies are moving toward,” he said.

In four years there will be 2,000 iPads in use by students in St. Peter. The ninth-grade students will be taking the iPads home, but Lustig said he believes there will be fewer instances of damage and neglect under that more personalized model.

“There’s actually more ownership on the part of the student when it’s their device,” he said. “They take better care of it.”

The students issued devices will be able to use the iPads for some personal accounts, such as email, Twitter and Facebook, as long as the usage follows the district policy for appropriate usage, Lustig said. In the summers, he said the devices will likely be returned to the district for maintenance and upgrades.

The $175,000 initiative this first year is for 400 iPads and carts, which will be financed through a local lender. Lustig said there is no plan to seek a technology referendum, but rather in future years to work the costs into the district budget.