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.”