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iPads roll out at Farmington High School

FHS junior Kaitlyn O'Reilly puts a case on her new iPad Thursday at FHS.1 / 2
Ashleigh, Katherine and Michelle Olsen go through the setup process Thursday at FHS.2 / 2

The Farmington School District took the biggest step yet this week toward what it sees as the future of education.

Over the course of three nights Dec. 18-20, the district handed out an iPad to each of the more than 1,800 students at Farmington High School. It is the latest phase of a plan that will eventually put one of the tablet computers in the hands of each of the district's students.

"I think it's gone really well," said Charles Duarte, the district's head of instructional technology. "As with anything else, the first night we had our kinks to work out."

FHS had a rush of parents and students at the beginning of the first day's distribution. Some of the early arrivals had to wait as long as 45 minutes to go through the roughly 10-minute distribution and registration process. By the second day, as word started to spread, that early crowd thinned some.

There were four identical distribution points on each night, each a kind of assembly line that had students pay for insurance, receive their iPad, go through a setup process, then get the computer sealed in a thick, rubbery case that seemed secure enough to survive anything short of getting run over. Teams of volunteer teachers, students and community members were on hand each night to lead students through the process.

The district has been building toward last week's distribution since spring, when it handed out iPads to each of its teachers to give them a chance to familiarize themselves with the devices. When school started in September, the district put more than 1,700 iPads in schools as part of an early adopter program to help ease everybody else into the program.

There were some adjustments to make early on. Some students found the devices a distraction as everyone got used to having them in the classroom. But Duarte and others say the iPads have become a valuable tool in the months since.

"I'd say the iPads coupled with our learning management system ... has allowed for teachers to have a web-based presence while students are in school," Duarte said.

Kaitlyn O'Reilly was excited to get her iPad Thursday night. The FHS junior has already used the device in history to explore areas of the earth while studying global population patterns, or in Spanish to take video of herself speaking and share it with her classmates. In chemistry, her teacher has used a flipped classroom model that asks students to watch a lesson on video, then turns class time into an opportunity to work on assignments with the teacher there to answer questions. She likes the new doors the iPad opens.

"I'm just kind of excited to start using it for everything," she said.

Her mother agrees. Gina O'Reilly said the iPads take learning to "a new level of thinking.

"It puts the onus of learning on kids," she said.

Senior Tyler Petter-McCauley was at FHS Thursday to help students seal their iPads into cases. He's used iPads so far this year to record a field trip to a Buddhist temple and to have video chats with other students while working on a project, among other things. He looks forward to having more access to the devices.

"I think they're going to be good," he said. "It's going to take some getting used to."

Parent Greg Peterson looks at the iPads and sees the future.

"I think it moves the kids into the next century of learning," he said. "It's nice to be one of the first schools to move technology along."

All high school students will get an assignment over the holiday break to help them get familiar with their new iPads.

The iPads students took home last week will become theirs, at least in a limited sense. The district has a system called Casper that will push out apps and other material to the devices wirelessly but students will be able to add their own programs as long as they are school appropriate. Students can also put their own photos and music on the devices. Students will turn the iPads in at the end of the school year, but those who come back next year will get the same device.

The district has already signed leases for the iPads that will go to the rest of the district's students. Rollout to middle- and elementary school students will take place early next year.

Duarte said so far he is happy with the way things have gone.

"It seems like there's a really positive buzz about what we're trying to do here," he said. "We're aiming to make great things happen for kids."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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