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Willmar, Minn., School Board reviews handbook for iPad use at Senior High

WILLMAR -- Fundraising is still under way, but Willmar Public Schools officials are moving ahead with plans to provide iPads for all juniors and seniors at Willmar Senior High next fall.

At a School Board workshop meeting Monday, board members reviewed a proposed iPad handbook for students and families. The board did not take action on the handbook Monday.

The district is in the second year of a pilot project to introduce the Apple iPad2 tablet computers into classrooms. Teachers at all levels of the district are working in study groups to explore ways to use the technology.

The iCardinals Campaign is working to raise $400,000 from the community to help the district move into the third year of the project by providing iPads to all juniors and seniors.

Willmar and other school districts have chosen the iPad over other tablets because of its longer battery life and the greater number of education-related applications available.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the Senior High is moving ahead with preparations with the expectation that the project will happen, even though iCardinals is still raising funds. "It's pretty much a done deal," he said, and the handbook and other plans need to be in place before iPads are purchased and distributed.

Teachers Lyle Hovland and Tyler Gehrking, who have spearheaded the effort, went over the basics of the handbook, which was developed in collaboration with the Minnetonka School District.

Students and parents will both have to attend a "boot camp" before they can pick up their iPads, Hovland said. The boot camp will cover rules for using the iPads and discuss security and safety concerns.

A technology fee of $40 a year has been proposed to help fund maintenance and related costs. The fee should be offset by other supplies students won't need, like calculators, Hovland said.

Gehrking said the social studies department is beginning to work on developing its own textbooks, which would address Minnesota state standards.

Board member Dan Croonquist asked if the district has the expertise to develop its own texts. The teachers said they believed they did. Hovland said a group of experienced teachers working together would be able to develop well-rounded materials.

Gehrking displayed the opening pages of an economics text he's started writing, using an iPad app designed for writing textbooks.

Hovland said the textbooks will likely be written in several parts, so that students can open them more quickly. They are likely to include videos and other interactive features.

The ultimate goal is "flipping the classroom," Gehrking said. In a flipped classroom, students do their reading and research as homework, and teachers use class time to explore the material more deeply.

Board member Nathan Streed said he recently tried to use his school-issued iPad in an area where he couldn't get on a secure Internet network. He asked if that situation would be a problem for students who encounter a similar situation.

"They will need to be set up so kids without Wi-Fi can use them," said board member Linda Mathiasen.

Paul Schmitz, recently hired as high school principal for next year, said he will stress to the staff next year that everything students need to do their work will be loaded on their iPads.

"It can't be Wi-Fi dependent when you walk out of the building," Schmitz said.

One of the district's arguments in favor of the iPad initiative has been the ability to even the playing field for low-income students who don't have Internet access at home.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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