First set of iPads roll out at Westwood complex

Westwood Middle School Monday rolled out its first set of iPads with a flourish.

Students in Mary Barnette’s sixth-grade classroom got down to business with their iPads Monday when they were distributed to classrooms at Westwood Middle School. Photo by Elyse Kaner
Students in Mary Barnette’s sixth-grade classroom got down to business with their iPads Monday when they were distributed to classrooms at Westwood Middle School. Photo by Elyse Kaner

An exuberant Principal Paula Hoff, to the accompaniment of rollicking music piped in through speakers in the school’s auditorium, met Monday with students to introduce the devices.

“Today is very, very special,” she said in the first round of distributing about 550 electronic devices to classrooms in both the middle school and at Westwood Intermediate.

The students watched a video created on an iPad by Jerelyne Nemanich, the district’s instructional technology coordinator.

The short video featured the iPads being unloaded from the back of a truck and delivered to Westwood. An excited Hoff accepts the cart of iPads and is joyfully wheeling it through the building. (Cue dramatic music.) And for the big finish, a message to the students. “To you. It’s here,” was scrawled across the screen in front of the auditorium. Kids and staff broke into applause.

Years of planning

After years of strategic planning and research, the iPads finally are in some District 16 schools. The district had been preparing for a technological change starting with professional learning in 2004.

The devices will be introduced into schools on a phase-in basis.

“This is totally going to change the way you will learn from here on out,” Hoff told her audience of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Hoff credited the community, committed voters who voted yes on a technology levy last year to fund the initiative, she said. She acknowledged Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg who led the charge of getting technology into classrooms and she thanked administrators and a tech crew that “for the last few weeks were opening thousands of boxes getting them ready for you,” she said.

Hoff then asked students for a commitment as well – to ensure that the devices are working appropriately and to engage in teacher instruction about proper use of the devices.

Students later met in their classrooms where the devices were assigned to individuals.

iPad procedures

Eighth-grade science teacher Brian Streitz met his students at the door of his room.

After assigning the iPads, he followed up with an iPad procedures and expectations presentation.

“You can carry it with a football hold or if you want to hug it you can,” he said about safety precautions.

He talked about cleaning the screen – cotton cloth or cotton shirts, please. No paper towels or liquids. He reminded students not to place them on the floor where they could easily get stepped on.

Within 15 minutes he had the students accessing information and, just for a brief exercise and breaking-in period, he asked them to draw a picture of their science teacher on the iPads. They next shared their mini masterpieces with each other via the devices. The entire class flipping through each students’ pictures at the same time watching on their own screens.

The students were engaged. Actively learning how to use the device for now.

But this is just the start for what promises to be a journey down a path of education innovation, a mining of facts, new concepts and conclusions – a new way to learn. A promise to uphold the district’s pledge to make every District 16 student college or career ready by the time they graduate, to usher in a new age of 21st century technological learning.

“I think it’s a great way to learn,” said eighth-grader Trevor Orr.

Fellow student Sarah Hui said she is excited that she won’t have to write on paper that much anymore. Instead, she will use her iPad.

“People will be more interested because it’s technology and everyone is interested in that,” she said.

‘Wait until I show him’

At Westwood Intermediate School, Principal Tom Larson rolled out the iPads to cheering kids. He showed a video on being college ready and how the iPads will help them achieve their goals.

“I don’t know what I ever did to deserve this,” a fifth-grade boy said about getting an iPad.

A fifth-grade girl was overheard saying, “My dad has an iPhone. Wait until I show him what I can learn with my iPad.”

The electronic devices are paid for from a voter approved technology levy that brings in about $1.06 million per year for 2012. The levy was authorized for eight years at an estimated total project cost of $8.6 million over the eight-year period. Voters passed the levy November 2011.

So far, the district has leased about 1,500 devices with plans to get iPads into the hands of most second- through 12th-grade students. In total, the district plans to lease 4,010 iPads and 865 iPod Touches. Not all will be ordered initially.

The devices will stay at school for now and in a few months students will be allowed to take them home. The remainder of the devices are being assigned to school groups on a phased-in schedule. Plans are to have iPads to most all students by February 2013.

“It’s been a really exciting day,” said Denise Waalen, director of education, one of the many key players in making the idea of iPads a reality at District 16.

District 16 serves about 5,200 students in Spring Lake Park and parts of Blaine and Fridley.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]