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Henderson students’ iPads won’t let dog eat homework

Pilot program will let parents check up on assignments via web

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Henderson Secondary School students will have a tough time this fall trying to dupe their parents that they don’t have any homework – or making the proverbial excuse that the dog ate it when they show up empty-handed for class.

A two-year pilot project that will give a mini iPad to every student will let parents check on homework and assignment schedules via a school website, while students will store their work on a central computer server, or cloud.

The latter will ensure they don’t lose an essay if their iPad is stolen or has a major malfunction, principal Rick Kunc said during an information session at Barton high school, which is being transformed into Henderson over the summer.

Parents will meanwhile be expected to ensure students bring their charged iPads to school each day and monitor use at home, he said, noting all homework can be downloaded onto the tablet so that it can be done without an Internet hookup.

Kunc and consultant Paul Hatala said the iPads will not only largely replace textbooks and printed materials, but also change the way students learn.

They said students will work together – and potentially with others around the world – as part of an inquiry-based approach that requires them to find answers to questions posed by themselves or teachers.

Hatala said in learning about area, for instance, rather feeding students a math formula and assigning pages of practice questions, a teacher might take them outside to consider how many people could fit under a tarp to stay dry on a rainy day.

Students might use a variety of approaches to solving the problem, he said, including a traditional calculation, holding up the tarp to see how many fit underneath or even asking if a circular tent might provide more shelter.

“As a teacher, my job in asking is to know where we need to get to. The end result of this is they need to learn how to calculate area,” Hatala said.

“I’m going to make sure, if they’re not asking the right questions, if they’re just like, ‘Pff, I don’t really care, I’m just going to get wet,’ that I find another way to hook them in, to get them actually asking those questions and figuring it out.”

The pilot project is the first step in a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board plan to spend nearly $18 million to put computer tablets in the hands of every student in grades 4 to 12 in the next five years.

Mountain Secondary students will also get iPads this fall, as will students in grades 4 to 6 at seven elementary schools in the north end.

Hatala said the board chose the mini iPad, which measures 20 by 13.5 centimetres, over laptops because it is compact, durable, isn’t susceptible to viruses and apps can be downloaded or removed without students having to do anything.

He said studies at other schools found students didn’t like laptops because they were too cumbersome to balance on their legs as they typed.

“They want to be able to pull it out, sit on the floor and start using it,” Hatala said. “If you’ve ever seen them on a cell phone, you know they can type with their thumbs. That is not an issue.”

Kunc said parents won’t have to pay anything for the iPads, which cost about $300 each, even if lost or stolen, or for any school-provided apps.

He said the board will be able to render any lost or stolen iPad useless, and Henderson will continue to have regular computers for other class work and students who want a keyboard for essays.

Parents will be expected to sign a permission form in September for the tablets, which will be issued by grade over four days and be accompanied by training sessions on their use, he said, acknowledging there will be “some bumps in the road.”

“We’re ready to fix those,” Kunc said. “It’s not that everyone’s going to come in the first week of September and every class is going to be inquiry-based use of technology at all levels and all students will know how to use their iPads, never lose them, never break them and never have any problems with technology.”

Richard Barrett, whose grandson is entering Grade 10 this fall, praised the session for answering all the questions he had about the initiative and said he likes letting students take more charge of their learning.

“It’s getting them thinking,” he said. “When I first heard about it, originally I kind of was a little bit dubious but now I’m excited about it. I think it’s a great way to do it.”

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