At Newman Elementary School in Salt Lake City Utah, every student can be seen toting an iPad. The funding for the iPads came from Utah’s Smart School Technology project, and Newman is one of 10 schools chosen to participate.
The project was funded with $5.4 million that had been set aside during the past two legislative sessions. It’s a big deal to these 10 schools, but to House Speaker Becky Lockhart it’s just the beginning.
The Provo Republican is proposing that Utah spend $200 million to $300 million to buy digital devices for Utah’s 612,500 students, to train educators and to build the infrastructure in schools.
The Utah Board of Education is asking for just $50 million. The proposals come at a time when Utah is better prepared financially and reveals a push to help prepare students for life in the digital age.
Maine is the only state that currently meets Lockhart’s goal of having one device per student statewide. Voters in Idaho rejected a one to one technology plan after legislation approved the funding.
In the rush to adopt technology, many states, districts and schools have made missteps; believing devices alone — without teacher buy-in or preparation — can make a difference.
Kristen Moulton of the The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with the Program director for McREL, Howard Pitler. He says the project has mixed results. “I can point to shining examples of transformative learning. And I can point to other examples where nothing has happened other than spending a lot of money.”
Principal at Newman Elementary John Erlacher is excited to finish the distribution of the iPads, and says that if the technology helps the kids learn “quicker and in a deeper sense” than he is “all for it”.
The teachers at Newman spent two Saturdays learning how to use the iPads in the classroom and will have an IT person and a “coach” in the classrooms for the first year. According to Erlacher, the goal is to help the teachers be comfortable using the devices this year, and to be more creative the next year. He says it will be a couple of years before they know whether or not the program is a success.
“Is it just a gadget or has it improved our language arts, math and science scores? Has it made our teachers better teachers?” he asks. “That will be the million-dollar question.”