Bethel Park schools: Readin' and writin' and iPads

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Independence Middle School principal David Muench took the Bethel Park school board on a tour of his iPad last week.

He showed a periodic table he had downloaded, with features that allowed him to click on each element for further information. He showed the texts of the Gettysburg Address and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," played a video presentation of the planets' movements around the sun, described the graphing calculator he had downloaded for $1.99, and ran a clip from a Ken Burns documentary.

The iPad demo was part of a presentation to suggest that the school district initiate a pilot program using the devices with about 120 students and six teachers at Independence Middle School.

The use of iPads could cut down on traditional costs, such as textbooks and handouts, and allow students to use technology throughout the day, not just during computer lab periods.

"I believe it's really the way to go," he said.

The iPad, released by Apple in April, is a tablet computer that can be used for, among other applications, reading books, visiting Internet sites and watching video. The listed price for the product on Apple's website is $499.

Mr. Muench said he thought use of the iPad in the classroom had the potential to cut down on textbook costs.

In an e-mail, sent from his iPad, he expanded on his vision with the device:

"With the iPad, our students would be able to jump on at any point to do a quick search or even use apps pertinent to what they are learning," he wrote. "Students can take notes on the iPad as well. It really is a very dynamic and flexible device."

Mr. Muench also pointed to the iPad's 10-hour battery life and portability, due to its compact size. The iPad weighs 11/2 pounds and is half an inch thick. Teachers would also have a level of control over the tablets since the Internet access is through the school's system.

Mr. Muench and Ron Reyer Jr., the director of technology services, said they had set aside $70,000 between the Independence Middle School and technology budgets for the first phase of the proposed pilot program.

They suggested that the district first take on a two-year immersion with the technology with a selected group of teachers and students, allowing administrators to work out applications of the devices and insurance issues, and to find solutions to problems they encounter.

They plan to pursue further funding from the Pittsburgh-based Grable Foundation to spread use of the iPads to higher grades, and then, if the iPad pilot program is well-received, to ask the district to budget funds for regular replacement of the iPads.

"It's a game-changer device," Mr. Reyer said.

Mr. Muench said he had spoken to Apple about the proposal and had plans to meet with representatives this fall to discuss the pilot program further.

"It's just looking you in the face that this is where things are going, so we are planning for that time," Mr. Muench said.

After his presentation, school board members agreed they should schedule a meeting to discuss the district's technology plan in general, including the proposed iPad pilot program.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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