90 Students and Many More Will Benefit With the Use of iPads, Officials Say
MONTROSE – Nearly 100 seventh-grade students at Columbine Middle School have spent their first few weeks of the 2012-14 school year learning to operate and care for the world's most popular tablet computer, thanks to a donation from Montrose residents Jim and Sharen Branscome.
"It's a pilot program,” said Columbine Middle School Principal Ben Stevenson. “Hopefully, it'll be successful, and create something the whole district can model after."
Stevenson said that all of the school's 32 teachers have also received the computer.
As part of the curriculum, Stevenson said, students in the program will spend the first quarter learning to handle iPads responsibility, and learn good "digital citizenship."
"First and foremost,” Stevenson said, “people have to understand this is an educational tool. They're great tools, but they don't take the place of strong instruction, and quality teachers."
At a winter school board meeting early this year, Jim Branscome voiced concern about the fact that some students were waiting upwards of 20 minutes just to log on to the internet, in a class that lasted just 55 minutes.
Deeming the lag-time a waste of potential, Branscome donated $64,000 toward fixing the problem. "Sharen and I think its a pretty innovative project which will improve the ability of the student to excel," he said of the program.
The machines are not for the students’ entertainment, but are viewed rather as essential support mechanisms for the development and enhancement of skills in such complex areas as communication, new media literacy, creativity and student-centered learning.
The goal is for students to learn and interact with one another while their teachers monitor success and learn to identify, in real-time, students who need more help. The iPads feature controlled computer algorithms allowing teachers to monitor student performance, and keep them from accessing inappropriate material.
"You get to assess them on the spot,” said Columbine teacher Keith Obsheatz, whose class is participating in the program. “We can take a quick quiz or assessment, and you get immediate feedback on your computer."
Obsheatz said the devices allow him the ability to teach in ways he has always wanted to teach. "The program itself is phenomenal. It's a 21st century skill that they need," he said.
Obsheatz said that initially, the kids wanted to play with iPads, but they are now learning to treat them as a learning tool. "Once we set down the groundwork with them, they started to understand they have to take care of them like they would a textbook," he said.
According to Stevenson, it will be awhile before students are allowed to take the tablets home. With more instruction, students will be able to bring the technology home for curriculum work outside of school.
"It's cutting-edge,” the principal said, adding, “We want all our kids to be exposed to this technology.”
Obsheatz is looking forward with sending the kids home with videos and powerpoint lectures that will let them learn and understand material at their own pace, as opposed to trying to "cram" curriculum in a short amount of time.
"It's going to level the playing field," Obsheatz said of students with learning disabilities.
With the use of modern technology, Columbine, like many schools across the country, is investing in wireless internet capability to meet access demand required from such devices.
Stevenson said some of the $64,000 Branscome donation went to better construct modern Wi-Fi access in a school built nearly 60 years ago.
In the U.S., billions are currently being spent on Information Technology and digital textbooks, with the bulk of that spending in middle and high schools. Recent surveys indicate a majority of college students prefer a digital format for their curriculum.
"It's the wave of the future," Stevenson said, adding that the participating Columbine students are "pioneers" in a new era of Montrose public education.
District officials hope the new technology will help bridge a generational gap between parents – who remember a time before the internet – and their children, who have never known a world without it, to better prepare for a global learning environment.
Branscome said the use of iPads poses a stark difference to the one-room school house of his childhood in the Appalachian area of southwestern Virginia. During his travels around the world, Branscome said, he and Sharen have seen the uses and benefit of similar devices help impoverished or remote students to improve and catch up, in areas from "fractions to geography."
Branscome said education and economic development are "tied together," and that an increasingly technologically savvy community will attract the right companies to Montrose. He and his wife have received everything from thank yous to comments from many parents who wish their children could participate in the iPad program.
Some parents of Columbine seventh graders did not want their children to participate in the iPad program, however, a resistance that has tasked administrators with explaining to skeptics why the iPads are a sound educational investment.
In addition to Columbine’s seventh grade iPad users, Stevenson said one eight-grade class will have access to the iPads, and that a pool of iPads will be available to students on a check-out basis.
In recent years, schools in the Montrose County RE-1J District have had to cut millions from their budgets. Stevenson said it will take about a year to see if test scores show the iPads are making a powerful difference in the classroom.
A Community Technology Challenge Grant was created following the Branscome's donation as a way for others to participate in purchasing iPads for Montrose students. A $600 donation will purchase an iPad with curriculum and support for awaiting Montrose students.
For more information about the tax-deductible donation, contact the Montrose Community Foundation at 970/249-3900.
Delta County schools have a similar program.