Shaler school board embraces opportunity to get iPads

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

The Shaler Area School District School Board unanimously approved an initiative that would eventually put iPads into the hands of every student.

On Wednesday, April 17, the school board approved Project Advancing Classroom Education, or Project ACE, with the goal of integrating iPads into the classrooms across the district and engage students in 21st century learning.

“We ask these kids to come to school and power down … to disconnect from technology, and it becomes an event to use technology,” said Kara Eckert, assistant to the superintendent and a member of the Project ACE team, explaining that now teachers must reserve and travel to a computer lab for class use.

“We don't want events of technology, we want to immerse them in technology.”

Eckert said the goal of the project is to advance academic achievement by engaging students and creating a more interactive learning environment.

“We have a vision for success,” Eckert said. “We need to change because the culture of learning is changing.”

The district administration and Project ACE team have been working on the project for more than one year and began piloting the program this month with 30 teachers across the district and in various subject areas. The teachers received an iPad, which syncs with an Apple TV device to project the display on the iPad onto a screen.

The team would like to involve an additional 30 teachers in the pilot stage in the coming months.

Jill Campbell, a fifth-grade teacher at Shaler Area Elementary School, was one of the first teachers to pilot the iPad in class. Campbell uses the device as an instructional aide and also works to pool other teachers' devices to get them into the hands of the students for class projects.

“They definitely get really excited when you pull them out,” she said. “They are eager to work with the app and show you what they know.”

Campbell sent her students on a scavenger hunt throughout the school building with iPads to find and take photos of examples of geometric shapes and then compile them in a slideshow presentation. Most recently student worked in groups to create a presentation explaining how to solve an equation involving fractions.

“It makes it that much more exciting,” Campbell said of incorporating the iPad into the curriculum. “It's the next step we all need to take to keep up with technology. We want our kids to be able to use the technology that's available to them.”

With the board's approval of the project last week, the district plans to purchase 330 iPads, 200 Apple TVs and 16 MacBook Pro laptops, with the capabilities to write programs for use on the iPads, to distribute to every teacher in the district. The initial cost of the project is $312,429. In the second year of the project, additional iPads will be purchased for student use as funds allow.

Charlie Bennett, director of business affairs, said the school district can't add an additional cost to the budget, but the money in the budget can be reallocated.

“I like to say it's changing the culture of our spending habits,” Bennett said.

For example, Bennett said he anticipates the iPad integration project will cut down on paper costs and textbook costs because of the capabilities of the iPads, including a feature that would enable teachers to write their own textbooks and curricular materials.

Eckert said the iPads provide a number of features for a variety of classroom use from special projects to daily curricular needs, including a lockout feature that would prohibit students from accessing any program, including search engines or calculators, when taking exams on the device.

“Our team firmly believes that time is now to make a change in academics,” she said.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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