Texas School Experiments with iPads in 4th Grade Classrooms

Last Wednesday was a very good day to be a fourth grader at Rutherford Elementary School in Mesquite, Texas. Pairs of eager eyes followed the motions of school principal Holly Grubbs as she fiddled with the lock of the computer cart that contained the most eagerly anticipated learning tools in the school's history: brand new Apple iPads.

This is not Rutherford's first experience with the popular tablet devices. All the school's fifth graders have been using the gadgets with great success already. According to The Dallas Morning News, since the device has been put in constant use, student engagement has gone up while discipline problems have been on a steady decline.

Still, some might consider putting such expensive – and fragile – pieces of equipment into the hands of 9-year-olds to be both fiscally irresponsible and risky. This is not a point of view, however, that is very popular in Rutherford halls. Here, the goal is, as it has been since the first set of iPads were distributed, to integrate the iPads fully into the academic programs and use them extensively to help each child learn.

Outwardly, Rutherford doesn't look like the likeliest place to host a technology revolution. In the words of Terry Dilts, who runs the town's Best Buy, the school's hallways haven't changed their look at all in the forty years since he roamed them as a student. Yet, behind the drab paint job, the minds running the school are as forward thinking as you can get.

Grubbs in particular embodies this futurism ethos, explaining that it doesn't serve the students to deny the role technology is playing in their lives just to keep the misguided ideological purity of the "old school" instructional paradigm.

It was the teachers, she said, who pushed hardest to lobby the school district for the technology. Staff members attended a spring conference at Abilene Christian University, which is in its fifth year of developing mobile teaching technology. They used the Mesquite ISD Education Foundation to apply for grants for the machines.

"Our responsibility is finding those opportunities in partnership with principals and other administrators that are more in tune with those kids," said Randy Lewallyn, the foundation's executive director.

Title I funds landed iPads for every Rutherford fifth-grader when school opened in August.

Through Dilts' efforts, Best Buy kicked in another $5,000 — enough to purchase the set for the fourth-graders which Grubbs put into their eager hands last week. Although the fact that the money went to towards the betterment of his own former school made the work he put on their behalf all that much sweeter, Dilts says he wasn't aware which particular school would be the beneficiary until fairly late in the game.

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