The next new hotspot
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When a student was caught with an electronic device during class, it used to wind up in the teacher’s desk drawer. Now, Milton schools are joining the growing number of districts that are passing out the devices.
The Milton School District is in the midst of installing the infrastructure needed for full wireless coverage in all six schools by this fall. And just last weekend, the Milton Foundation for Education held its annual fund-raiser to foot the bill.
The payoff comes next school year, when Milton expands a pilot program for “one-to-one” wireless devices such as iPads and Kindle Fires, with the ultimate goal of having every school well-stocked with a variety of devices.
“At one point it felt threatening and a little overwhelming, but we’re watching it now become an exciting tool and a new way to deliver the information and a new way to catch children’s attention,” said Holly Concannon, coordinator for K-8 technology for Milton schools. “Nothing will ever replace a good teacher, but it’s really nice to have the equipment to pique the interest of the students.”
Milton is among the more aggressive public school districts going wireless in this area. Towns such as Duxbury and Stoughton have universal wireless in their schools, and Westwood hopes to provide a tablet to each high school and middle school student in the near future, said Steve Ouellette, Westwood’s technology director.
Schools are being pushed toward Wi-Fi to stay abreast with technological trends throughout society, and to comply with state requirements for computer-based standardized tests that are slated to partially replace the MCAS exams in the spring of 2015.
“It’s like building a cellar before building a house,” Milton Assistant Superintendent John Phelan said of establishing wireless. “You have to have it.”
The push in Milton began in earnest in the fall of 2011, when parents at the Glover and Collicot elementary schools donated some iPads to the schools. The next year, Tucker Elementary School won a federal grant for scoring high on MCAS exams and used the money to buy 30 iPads.
Last summer, Cunningham Elementary School, which purchased a dozen Kindle Fires, also received five iPads as a gift from the fifth-grade class of 2012.
A recent visit to Cunningham showed how the students are being introduced to high
-tech instruction early on.
In one kindergarten class, teaher Sara Slater pointed to the classroom’s SMART Board, the electronic descendant of the blackboard, as they read, “Today’s temperature is . . . .”
“What’s your guess?” she asked. One thought it was 30 degrees; another said 31; a third wasn’t sure, but guessed it was warmer.
Touching a button on the SMART Board’s display, the screen connected to weather.com, revealing the outdoor temperature as 34 degrees.
At Tucker Elementary School, third-grade teacher Kirsten Finnell said using tablet devices like iPads helped her track each students’ progress.
Most students were using an iPad app called Splash Math, which tested multiplication and other third-grade skills, rewarding correct answers with games involving fish.
“Without the iPads,” she said, “we would probably all be on the rug and I’d be standing there telling them questions, and only one student would get the opportunity to answer a question. But with the iPads every single kid gets to answer, so I can see how well each student knows, not just one student.”
With universal wireless access, students could link their devices to the room’s SMART Board, allowing the rest of the class to follow along, or connect to websites offering further lesson support, Finnell said.
One student who completed the assignment, Peter Rhee, used his iPad to log onto the Web-based program Study Island. Clicking through his profile, Peter said he learned how to use the program in first grade.
It wasn’t hard, he said.
When Milton’s program is fully implemented, carts filled with tablet devices will be available for multiple classrooms in all grades, Phelan said. The district will probably buy different types of devices for different types of lessons, he added.
Visitors will be able to log on through a guest account that requires a password. As in other districts, sites deemed inappropriate, including Facebook, will continue to be disabled through the schools’ wireless network.
The money for the wireless initiative has been provided by the Milton Foundation for Education and the Copeland Family Foundation, according to Donald Greene, a board member of the Milton foundation.Continued...