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ISD 196 students get iPads for start of school year

Assistant Principal Eric Hansen opens the first of many boxes packed with iPads that were recently delivered to Rosemount Middle School. This is the first year all seventh through ninth graders will use an iPad as part of class instruction throughout ISD 196.

After two years of test runs, the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district is ready to put an iPad mini in the hands of all of its seventh, eighth and ninth graders.

“There’s a buzz of excitement,” said Eric Hansen, assistant principal at Rosemount Middle School.

This is the first year of a three-year plan to equip all fourth through twelfth graders with the handheld devices, funded by a $180 million bond referendum approved by voters last November. Of that, the district will get $5 million per year for ten years for technology upgrades.

The iPads are just one tool in array of devices aimed at making the classroom experience more mobile, said Steve Troen, the district’s director of teaching and learning.

“Our framework all along has not been about the device,” Troen said.

Unlike some districts, who jumped into the iPad experience with both feet, District 196 has been more cautious.

Troen said the district took its time, watching how others, such as Spring Lake Park, Hopkins, Bloomington and Farmington worked out the bugs during their trial years.

“We’ve been very intentional in how we built this,” Troen said.

Back in 2013, his task force started to tour these districts and look at the different options available to them.

Some chose iPads, some Chromebooks and some Surface tablets.

“What we learned was that every district we visited loved the device they were using,” Troen said. “We also learned there is no such thing as a perfect device.”

So, although they wanted the students to have a consistent device, they did not limit learning to just the iPad.

Teacher’s desktops have been switched out with laptops, Google Chromebooks are available for word processing, and iPad minis are going to the students.

Another benefit to taking it slow was the ability to experiment without spending much money.

The task force led two beta programs in which teachers had a chance to apply to have the devices in their classroom.

Now these “beta” teachers have been talking with the teachers that will receive iPads this year, and sharing their experiences, Hansen said.

While the district evolved its plan, Apple changed how iPads handled the app store, a concern parents had voiced about their children having too much access to the internet.

“We control the apps that they can download,” Troen said. The district keeps a list of black-listed apps that are flagged whenever a student attempts to download one.

“We also have web filtering,” Troen said. “If the student takes the iPad home and logs in, it still goes through our filter.”

He said they are also able to track the iPads if they are lost or stolen.

Another benefit to waiting is being able to take the needed time to train staff, Troen said.

“We’re stepping into this over time and we’re able to focus our professional training on a certain group of teachers instead of all teachers at once,” he said.

Hansen said the math teachers are very excited about the iPads. Several teachers had switched to flipped classes, which means the student watches a video at home and the classroom time is focused on answering questions and getting one-on-one time with the teacher.

Until now, students had to check out devices, but now all the students will have their own.

Due to instant feedback from the student’s work online, Hansen said, “the teacher knows before they walk in the door how that 45 minutes will be spent.”

The iPads will be handed out over the first two to three weeks of the school year.

Grades 10, 11 and 12 will get iPads in the fall of 2017, followed by grades four, five and six in the fall of 2018.

Younger students will have increased access to technology, but will not receive iPads.