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RMS brings iPads into the classroom

Rosemount Middle School teachers will have some new tools at their disposal when school starts Sept. 4.

RMS will start the year with two mobile iPad labs, rolling carts each stocked with 20 of the popular tablet computers. The new devices are possible because of a more than $14,000 contribution from the RMS parent booster club and a decision by the district to install wireless Internet networks at district schools. RMS technology coordinator Jon Ofstad said crews were installing that network last week.

Ofstad started looking at mobile technology like iPads and laptops almost as soon as the district made its decision to go wireless.

"We knew mobile technology was something that was now going to be available to us," he said.

Ofstad considered e-readers and tablets that use Google's Android operating system as well, but said Apple's tablet was "far superior" as an educational tool, in large part because of the variety of applications already available for it.

Getting up and running with iPads won't be as simple as just loading them into a cart and rolling them into a classroom, though. Ofstad has already started working with teachers to make sure they understand what is possible with the devices and how they can use them to teach existing lessons in new ways.

Even the highest-tech device is useless as a teaching tool if it's not implemented effectively.

"One of the biggest pitfalls is when you implement some kind of technology into instruction, all of a sudden the technology becomes the focus rather than the curriculum," Ofstad said. "We don't want this device to simply become a replacement for accessing the Internet on a computer. That's not what this is for."

To combat that, the school bought an iPad last spring and started sending it home with teachers so they could explore the apps that were out there. Ofstad asked them to come back with wish lists.

"I got one two-page list from a teacher that came back," Ofstad said. "They're excited about the apps and what they can do."

Ofstad also has 30 teachers coming in on their own time before the start of the school year to talk about technology.

The implementation of the iPads is still a work in progress, but iPads are increasingly viewed as valuable tools in education. The Farmington School District will make more than 1,700 iPads available to students this fall as the first step in a process that will eventually put an iPad in the hands of every student.

RMS isn't near that point. With just 20 iPads per cart, they won't even have enough for every student in a class. But Ofstad said growing popularity is a sign the definition of a classroom is changing. Teaching is less about telling students exactly what they need to know and more about helping them find some of the answers on their own. Wireless Internet means students can get out of their desks and move around the classroom and the school.

"The classroom has become looser in its constraints," he said. "Not only in its timeframe, but how kids are accessing the information. Instructors are becoming, aside from this content knowledge, they become the facilitators. I think that's huge."

RMS will gather information as the iPads are put into use about exactly how teachers use them and what students think about them. Ofstad wants to know how the iPads change the way they go about their tasks in the classroom.