San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

Third, fourth and fifth-graders at Travis and DeZavala elementary schools will be issued either an Apple iPad or a Amazon Kindle Fire as a pilot program to test giving wireless computers to all San Marcos CISD's students. The school board approved spending $1.5 million on the program this week. SAN MARCOS CISD PHOTO by KATHY FITZGIBBONS

by BRAD ROLLINS

Student in three grade levels at two San Marcos elementary schools will be issued an Apple iPad or Amazon Kindle Fire next fall as part of an initiative to engage a wired generation of students in education.

The San Marcos CISD school board this week appropriated about $1.5 million to buy 775 iPads and 850 Kindle Fires, strengthen the district’s wireless network and expand its server capacity.

The technology upgrades will let teachers use multi-media to reach children raised playing video games, watching YouTube videos and having multiple forms of media on demand, district officials say.

“It allows us to extend the classroom beyond these four walls,” said Ronda Stonecipher, the district’s Instructional Technologies and Libraries director.

Under the pilot program, third, fourth and fifth graders at Travis Elementary will be lent iPads and every third, fourth and fifth grader at DeZavala Elementary will be lent a Kindle Fire to test the practicality of supplying all the district’s 7,500 students with a portable computer.

“If we see a return on investment in terms of student performance, then that is where this would be headed: All students would have their personal device. But first we have to get the results to justify it weighed against the cost,” said Jason Garrett, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and support services.

The program will also buy one cart of 25-30 iPads or Kindle Fires for each grade level, including pre-K and Kindergarten, in the district’s other elementary schools. Bowie and Mendez will get iPads; Crockett and Hernandez will get Kindle Fires.

The devices can be used in the classroom and at home to supplement instruction, collaborate with other students, work on projects, practice basic computer skills and, Stonecipher predicts, eventually replace paper textbooks. They also give poorer students access to technology that’s part of everyday life for most middle class Americans.

“We see it as the great equalizer,” said Superintendent Mark Eads. “At a time when school districts are working on their budgets so they do not have to lay off teachers or cut programs, spending money on mobile computers may seem like an extravagance. We see it as an investment in our students and a way to engage students in their own learning.”

One of the variables the pilot is supposed to test: Whether the Kindle Fire, costing $195 a pop, works as well for instruction as the more expensive iPad, which cost the district $385 apiece.

“It is not just about getting a cool device,” Stonecipher said. “We are talking about changing instruction and thinking outside of the box.”

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30 thoughts on “Travis, DeZavala students to be issued iPads, Kindle Fires

  1. You are kidding, right? What if parents don’t want their elementary kids to have internet access at school?? I get it that there is gap in technology use between poorer and richer students, but take care of that at the high school level. I can see absolutely no useful purpose being served by hooking elementary children up to the internet. Reading, writing and basic mathematics can ALL be taught to most student without the use of technology. Certainly there are special needs students who can use the extra help, but all 7,500 children in the district?

    You Tube videos? Darn straight that I think that’s an extravagant use of public school funds….

  2. It would be helpful to have more detail about how this is expected to better engage students, improve results, etc., as well as if/how the devices are locked down. I can’t count how many times I sat in class at TXST, watching the student in front of me play Angry Birds or Farmville all through class.

    I’m intrigued, but the story just leaves me with lots of questions.

  3. Another question – how much money have you set aside in the budget to replace these devices when they inevitably get broken in transport between home and school, or by younger siblings, etc. ? Will families be asked to pay a deposit on the loaner computer? I have an eight year old, a rather careful child, but I certainly wouldn’t entrust a $200-400 electronic device to him on a daily basis. I own a kindle e-reader, and they are *delicate* – not something that is going to survive being thrown around in a backpack. And lets not even go into what happens when one gets stolen….

    As Ted mentions above, it would be good to hear just exactly how the board thinks these will improve student performance. Considering that the first two schools chosen are the ones that didn’t pass the federal standards in reading last year, I hope they have solid evidence from other districts that this works.

  4. Maybe someone from the district will get on here to answer questions. One of the uses I’ve been told about is electronic versions of textbooks.

  5. hmmm. I bought 5 ipads as Christmas gifts and paid $385 each at Sam’s. Seems to me buying 775+ would get at least some kind of discount… unless, of course, someone has a “deal” with a “friend” to sell them to the district. Just sayin’……

  6. Not saying I lean one way or the other on this – there are pedagogical pros and cons in what research I’ve looked at (admittedly, I am hardly an expert on this particular subject) – but this is definitely the direction we are heading in education as a whole. My own district (note, NOT SMCISD, in which case I would probably be posting under the handle Jello Biafra or something) is rapidly moving toward nothing but e-books and our lovely governor has openly stated his desire for the state to do the same. Oh yeah, and the companies that make such products are very keen on us doing so and are very generous in their gifting to steer this boat in that direction…

    In other words, fasten your seat belts folks, especially in light of all the privacy issues as students around the country get in trouble for accessing certain websites on school issued computers and/or networks. For example, one district got in trouble for using a school-issued computer’s video camera to spy on a student who was allegedly doing “bad things.” Another senior got expelled for tweeting some cusswords on his own time but using the school network…in other words are we sure we’re ready to go here?

    On the learning theory side of the issue, as a teacher such technology really can be a wonderful, powerful tool. The danger is when said tool becomes an end in itself and not a facilitator to better critical thinking. And I’m afraid this is the case at least as often as it is a positive. In this case the technology works as a distractor and/or crutch. An expensive and highly breakable one at that…

  7. Good points all, especially about the cost of repair or replacement. I would hope that the District has also apropriated the money to insure the different devices. I do have first hand experience seeing how the use of technology has worked on a smaller scale. Nine kids were issued Ipods with which to view educational videos. This was an adjunct to learning in school and it was hoped that perhaps even their parents would view the vids with the child. As I recall, it was a positive expereince for the children. All but one was returned at the end of the year and that one was stolen on one of the school buses.
    During that same time period and at the same school, I remember one mac and a few pc laptops being badly damaged by teachers and an administrator. I am not saying they were damaged maliciously but, accidents do happen and things get stolen.

  8. I am a parent and find that there are many concerns with lending kids iPads and Kindle Fires. However advances to technology and how our kids are educated is inevitable, like it or not. The district just needs to have restrictions on the devices and what can and can not be accessed, making sure our children are safe should be the main concern.

    I personally think Kind Fires are the way to go. They are almost 1/2 the price of an iPad and can serve the same educational purposes.

    Books are expensive and can be damaged or lost just as well as these devices can be. Has anyone had to pay for a lost school book? I have and let me tell you it can cost $50 or more per book.

  9. 1,500,000/775 = 923.00 per
    Would sure like some kind of breakdown.
    This technology should be utilized in our schools.
    But can we just for once not just pick a number($) and see if we can spend it all.

  10. There is a School Board Candidate Forum at CTMC this evening at 5:30. People need to go and find out which candidates would approve of such a thing. Those that would approve it need not voted onto the board ! The meeting is in the Community Classroom.

  11. I am having mixed feelings on this issue. But one of the questions I have is this. I remember 100 years ago (or so it seems) the time I lost one of my text books in 7th grade. My mother had to pay I think something like $40. to replace the book, which for a single mother in those days was a lot of money. These things will cost us between $200 and $400 each. Some of our families in the district do not even pay that much in rent, because they can’t. Who is going to pay for the ones that get lost, stolen, or broken?

  12. If this becomes a part of our system,(1) privialge to be earned on a merit basis, behavior, studies, etc (2) i can see a lot of expensive toys mysteriously being stolen ( chuckle)… what will ensure accountabilty for those that are handed these tools, etc???? PS- I own no kindle, ipad, etc, not in my budget… I pay in the maximum tax bracket, as a single, childless, homeowner,entitlement-less citizen, etc.On the positive, i too think that this could be a valuable learning tool, for those that display the meritorious and behavioral tendencies to properly utilize it, perhaps around 6-8 grade level at the earliest. JLB :-)

  13. If they truly want children “thinking outside the box,” then they should rethink the whole government-controlled education system. Award-winning educator John Taylor Gatto described it this way: it is “… an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens – all in order to render the populace “manageable.””

  14. I think it’s crazy. For $1.5mm you could beef up every computer lab and hire well qualified technology instructors. These devices do not need to go home for the kids to learn how to use them. They don’t even do the basic homework they’re assigned as it is; forget about adding the distraction of a cool toy. I hate to imagine the siblings fighting over it at home. I say punt this away.

  15. 775 iPads, 850 Kindle Fires, $1,500,000.00.

    $923+ per unit.

    Seems a bit high; but I have not priced either of those machines.

  16. I’m not a fan. First, tablets are limited-use items. Better to issue kids fully functioning laptops that cost less than $500 and have keyboards, webcams, the works. That way they’re not just doing fun exercises on apps, but actual work. Who knows? Some of them might actually author a paper. (We just bought an outstanding 11-inch Samsung ultralight notebook for $500 on Amazon…it has 4GB memory, Windows 7, everything except a DVD drive, which tablets don’t have either. Surely at volume and with an educators’ discount, that price could drop 20 percent.)

    Second, as one poster brought up, there’s no guarantee a borderline student will be using his iPad for classwork during class. How do you police that?

    Third, iPads in particular are objects of desire and are stolen frequently. Can you imagine how carefully a child will watch after this device, especially if it was given to him or her for nothing? And yes, I imagine plenty of “stolen” school iPads may mysteriously end up on eBay.

    Some of these concerns also apply to notebook PCs, but these are so ubiquitous that the allure of a notebook is nothing like that of an iPad.

    Finally, I can’t help but point out that my life was filled with all kinds of entertainments when I was growing up — TV especially — yet I somehow managed to survive, and occasionally thrive, in a learning environment that was utterly devoid of those bright, shiny things. Are we now setting the bar so low for today’s kids that we just assume they’re incapable of learning if they aren’t allowed to tap and swipe their way through a lesson?

    God help us if that’s true.

  17. Appalling! I am in complete agreement with Forced School. Such an irresponsible use of taxpayer money. When will the citizens of San Marcos wake up and begin to elect people with common sense and vision to their school board? These two qualities are not incompatible concepts.

    Please read The Third Wave in which Alvin Toffler speaks to the institutions of the late 20th Century as being vestiges of the Industrial Revolution. Schools resemble assembly lines where a bell rings, students move down the line (to the next classroom) input knowledge (teacher teaching), ding (the bell rings), students move down the line to the next classroom, and so on. This is factory education, producing products for society….workers to fit into the jobs of an antiquated economic and business system. What we need is not Ipads and Kindle Fires, but an educational model that offers each student the opportunity to explore their creativity and their innate gifts. My recommendation is that the school board consider using this money to set us a pilot program utilizing the pedagogical methods of Rudolf Steiner who was the creator of the Waldorf Education. No need to reinvent the wheel or buy expensive technology, just study and implement the methods and curricula of the Waldorf model. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_Education).

    At this time our nation is suffering from severe crises on many levels, and the purchase of electronic devices is simply throwing money at the problem. It’s time to break out of this limited way of thinking and begin visioning a new path.

  18. Its really a slap in the face to all the teachers that have not gotten a raise ! You can hire a mentor for half the price of a freakin ipad! Please attend the school board debate on Monday at the Activity Center !

  19. jmo, thanks for bringing that up. I failed to include that in my post.

    Spending $1.5 million to hire or award raises to teachers is an investment in people. It results in a rise in local spending and puts people to work. Spent wisely, it may also improve outcomes in the classroom and, if new teachers are hired, possibly reduce class size.

    Buying iPads and Kindles, on the other hand, sends money to Apple, Amazon, and app developers. None of those folks live here.

  20. I was just reading another local newspaper and there was a headline about mentors at Mendez Elementary. Apparently, volunteers are working with kids and its working so well that students and parents are requesting more. Hhmm…interesting concept, human interaction in order to help our children grow and learn and become capable adults. Is there an ipad app for that?

  21. Thank You Sara ! A little goes a long way ! One example – I was a whataburger and listening to this young man telling on of his co-workers about how he used to be a Thug and all his brothers were in prison. He told his co-worker that he was going to be better than them. As he walked back to the counter I told him “Excuse me, but I heard what you said,… Dont let anything hold you back, ( as I pointed to my brain) You can do whatever you want with your life, Just believe in yourself ! Well a couple of weeks later I went back for a breakfast taco and he was there. He told me ” Because of what you said last time, It made me feel so good about my self that I have enlisted in the Airforce!” I told the young man, “God Bless You and Thank You For Your Service!” He then asked me for my mailing address so he could send me letters to update me what he was doing with his life. I got my breakfast taco to go and drove to work thinking… Yeah , with that one comment, I made a difference…. MENTORS! It only takes a min !!

  22. Tarl- I agree with you. If the money *can* go to teachers for raises to bring them up to at least the state average salary or hire more teachers, that seems the better investment.

    My big concern is that computers/gadgets becomes obsolete within 3-5 years and then need to be replaced. Can you imagine if this money was to go to anything else that would lose its value in such a short time?

    Every campus already has a computer lab that gets replaced every 3- 5years.

    Invest in teachers

  23. Should the taxpayer be paying for this?

    “The technology upgrades will let teachers use multi-media to reach children raised playing video games, watching YouTube videos and having multiple forms of media on demand, district officials say.”

    Sounds to me like the technology is already in the home.

    “They also give poorer students access to technology that’s part of everyday life for most middle class Americans.”

    Therefore the taxpayer should buy everyone an iPad/Kindle in order to bring equity to the poor? WOW, Apple and Amazon have done a GREAT sales job in San Marcos!!!

    I really do want to understand this expenditure but at this point it doesn’t make sense to me….

  24. School Board Candidate Arredondo says “We need mentors not machines.”

    AGREED!

  25. The more I think about this one the more frustrated I feel. I think this is a huge waste of money. Asking my teacher friends I’m hearing that the school servers are very slow and the computer labs are frequently backed up and unavailable. If technology is the priority let’s put the money toward the more traditional needs and not toward these devices which are glorified toys.

  26. I would be much more supportive of spending our money on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) infrastructure that any and all WiFi devices can access.

    Most importantly, we should not be sending the message that technology is essential to learning and the corollary that without technology learning cannot happen.

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