by Jim Boyle
The school year is young, but testimonials have already started to flow at Becker Public Schools where an administrative decision was made to make the ratio of iPads to students 1 to 1.
Susan Meyer, director of instructional technology in the Becker School District, says one math teacher was so excited when she approached her in the hallway of Becker High School she could barely get the words out. What she was so giddy about was that her students have their entire “30-pound textbook” downloaded on their iPad and “they’re using it.”
A foreign language teacher gushed over the fact that one of the apps being used by her students is helping them correctly pronounce and learn words it used to take students weeks to learn.
This same kind of excitement is building among members of the Elk River Area School Board and the District 728 administration.
Meyer, a former Spanish teacher of eight years and media specialist of 14 years, came to Monday’s School Board work session to explain the reasoning behind Becker’s bold move.
She came at the urging of School Board Member Holly Thompson, who heard Meyer speak at a Teaching and Learning Committee function.
Meyer told members of the board iPads were first introduced in the Becker schools by one administrator who decided to purchase a cart with 30 of them. Educators were so impressed with how quickly students could learn to use them, and — most importantly to them — learn while using them.
The Becker School District began to explore how it could get more of this technology in the hands of its students and staff.
Eventually it decided to offer iPads to all staff and bring the ratio of iPads to students up to 1 to 1. Meyer was clear, however, with Elk River board members that the decision to equip all students with the technology was not a technological initiative.
“It’s an instructional initiative,” she said. “Our goal is never to teach our kids technology but to have the technology teach our kids.”
Thompson, of Zimmerman, is eager to see what can be done in the Elk River system.
Jana Hennen-Burr, an assistant superintendent, said she would like to bring Meyer in for some training, to help staff learn to use this new technology.
At least one school is piloting the use of iPads in a sixth grade classroom.
Thompson, who has been closely following the progress of this class since the beginning of the school year, has been amazed by the enthusiasm kids have shown for math.
Meyer has been the director of instructional technology for Becker schools for four years. The school district has been committed to getting new technology in the hands of teachers and students, so they don’t become organizational and management tools.
Initial plans to add 210 (105 for staff and 105 for students) were scrapped after nearly the entire district staff said they were ready to give iPads a shot.
Building principals figured out ways to come up with the rest of the money so every staff member that wanted one got one.