iSchools in Nevada: Is technology the answer to better grades? - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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iSchools in Nevada: Is technology the answer to better grades?

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A Kindergarten class at Explore Knowledge Academy uses iPads for reading activities A Kindergarten class at Explore Knowledge Academy uses iPads for reading activities
A high school class using iPads for a project A high school class using iPads for a project
Students still use traditional hands-on learning methods in the classroom Students still use traditional hands-on learning methods in the classroom
The iPads at EKA are locked in secure cabinets and charged every day The iPads at EKA are locked in secure cabinets and charged every day
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

As the Clark County School District is struggling with one of the worst graduation rates in the nation, and a $63 million budget deficit, teachers are looking to technology for an answer.

While expensive, administrators believe tablet computers and similar gadgets will keep students engaged and learning more.

At Explore Knowledge Academy, the latest textbook isn't really a book at all. It is a glowing touch screen tablet with endless possibilities.

"We have iPads," exclaimed third-grader Michael Dodson, who is learning in a different world than his parents.

"You don't like have to flip pages... you just slide the pages," he explained.

Explore Knowledge Academy is Nevada's first iSchool. A campus where all 687 students received their very own Apple iPad 2 at the beginning of the school year.

The executive director of this charter school says it's made a great difference.

"It's small. It's portable. The kids can take them with them from class to class and it's been a perfect fit for us," said Abbe Mattson, who has worked at EKA for the past seven years.

Here, the iPads are merely a tool - a way to foster the learning process. Students still use textbooks along with the time-tested pencil and paper. Sophomore De'Liza Galimidi remembers the days when that was the only option.

"Times are changing, so this is the future. This has to be my life now," she said.

Galimidi earns the jealousy of her peers in other high schools where this technology is still only a dream.

Yet the Clark County School District isn't backing down. At the start of the school year, 500 students at Silverado High School were loaned an iPad as a supplement to Algebra I. Similar rollouts also happened at Silvestri and Leavitt middle schools.

"I personally visited the classroom at Silverado last month and the students were saying, and the teacher as well, saying they can't imagine being in the classroom without technology," remarked CCSD Chief Technology Officer Jhone Ebert.

Getting that technology into the classroom, however, is a challenge. Ebert told FOX5 the three-school project alone cost the district $700,000, and that includes the education rate from Apple.

"We'll never be able to afford a device for every single child," said Ebert. "There are 309,000 students in our school district, so that can get quite costly."

Ebert said the future of tablets in school depends on cost-shifting. A standard iPad is about $500. Some textbooks can cost upwards of $100 each. On a tablet, however, those texts can be downloaded at a cheaper rate, or even for free. Throw in a free graphing calculator application, worth another $100, and the savings add up.

At Explore Knowledge Academy, students don't take home their tablet. Instead, they are locked up in a case and charged at the end of each day. But during class, they use apps tailored to their lesson plans and email assignments at the tap of a finger.

"Every lesson plan that I'm writing, it's what app or what can I integrate with the iPads," said Katie Gilbert, a second- and third-grade advisor at EKA.

Gilbert remembers a time not long ago when she taught classes the traditional way. Now, she says, the students often teach her how to use the device.

"I think it's good," Gilbert remarked. "I think it will bring our students higher. It has here. I think - I mean we don't have scores, but I've seen my classroom kids really catching on."

Mattson said it is too early to tell if the program at EKA is working effectively on scores and testing since it has been in practice for less than a year.

As for distractions, the apps and website access are limited. Students are reprimanded for misusing the device, and a broken device must be replaced at the student's expense.

The drawbacks are there, but Ebert told FOX5 the issue is about moving forward or being left behind.

"Our classrooms should not be the 1800s. Our classrooms should be the 21st century," she said.

Despite an uphill battle, the Clark County School District presses on with plans to outfit schools with tablet technology.

FOX5 has learned exclusively during research for this story that five more middle schools will receive those tools for students.

They include Bridger, Roy Martin, Garside, Von Tobel and Sedway.

That rollout will happen at the start of the next school year at a cost of $5 million, which the district says is coming strictly from a federal Title I grant.

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