Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 36
Delta pilots tablets for the high school district
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
Lights blink on an upside-down router attached to the ceiling in Delta High School math teacher Justin Fraser’s room. It’s the same sort of router that adorns ceilings in neighboring classrooms, and those little white boxes work together to make the school a wireless campus.
Wireless Internet is new for the high school, and is also one of the perks that comes with piloting a Microsoft Surface tablet program for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. But, as with any form of technology, there are finicky kinks to work out—such as the Internet being down when a certain reporter visited campus to check out the new tablets—which is why the district chose Delta as the pilot school.
“[It’s] a group of students and teachers that is manageable in size,” district Superintendent Mark Richardson said.
With approximately 250 students on campus and another 60 independent-study students, Delta is teeny compared to the other three high schools in the district, which boast roll lists of thousands.
The way the tablet program unfolds at Delta will determine how—and if—it will extend throughout the district. The point of the program is to make technology more accessible for students in the district, to not only prepare them for the future and the new Common Core assessments that will be done online, but also to put everybody on a level playing field.
“I think the end goal for the district is not just how we can get technology into the hands of those kids, but how can we make it so that they can access it at home, 24 hours a day,” Richardson said.
He said he’s aware that many students don’t have that luxury, so in order to make an impact, the district will have to help get technology into the home.
But before the district puts modern devices in student hands, Richardson said it needs teachers and campuses to be ready for the change. Making campuses wireless is the first step to getting them tablet-prepped. And regardless of the ultimate determination on a district-wide program, Richardson said the district is starting to map other campuses to see what needs to happen to make them wireless.
“We know we have to have the capacity at our sites to get kids more involved in technology,” Richardson said.
While Delta is now wireless, students don’t yet have tablets. However, teachers and support staff received theirs at a training session on Nov. 1.
In addition to being a math teacher, Fraser is sort of the unofficial tech-guy at the school. He ran the training session in cahoots with Director of Information Services Larry Dragan. The session on Nov. 1 was an introductory training, and more training sessions will follow. Students are expected to receive tablets in January 2014.
Fraser said Delta wanted to get a classroom set of the Microsoft Surface tablets last year that could act as a traveling laptop library. But the district wanted to wait to see how the public received the first generation of tablets.
Why are Microsoft tablets better than other tablets? First and foremost, Fraser said, they’re cheaper.
For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District signed a contract with Apple earlier this year to buy more than 500,000 iPads at a cost of more than $700 apiece, and the keyboards for those will cost the district even more. The Microsoft tablets are costing the district less than $300 per device, plus they come with keyboards. Money for the tablets is coming out of $1.6 million in state funding allocated to the district for Common Core technology preparation.
The second reason Fraser gives for why Microsoft Surface tablets are great for schools: the programs they come with.
“Tablets are great for consumption, [but] not very many are good at production,” he said.
L.A. Unified had to buy programs to type documents and create spreadsheets for the iPads, but the Microsoft devices come complete with the Microsoft Office Suite of programs, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Fraser said he’d use tablets in the classroom much like he’d use a computer lab. He said he can’t take his students into the computer lab every time he wants to show them how math is used in the real world or to do a project that involves checking real-time stock prices. He added that getting students directly involved with technology gives them a chance to evolve their own way of deciphering the world, which aligns with the new Common Core education standards.
“If students look for [something] themselves, then they’re more likely to believe it,” Fraser said. “If you give a kid an equation and he researches it online and then draws a conclusion, then that’s Common Core.”
Fraser, superintendent Richardson, and Delta High principal Esther Prieto-Chávez all acknowledge that there are some concerns with giving tablets out to students, especially with the hubbub that’s surrounded the L.A. Unified iPad handout. Richardson said the district is aware that there will be things that can’t be prevented, but there are measures in place to monitor how the devices are being used both on and off campus.