MANATEE — Some local middle school students will soon receive an apple from their teacher instead of giving them one.
The Manatee County School District recently purchased more than 300 Apple iPads to be used in science classes at six schools, part of a $750,000 federal grant to enhance education through technology.
The light-weight mobile devices, which retail starting at about $499 each, are gaining popularity in classrooms across the state, too. Pinellas County School District leaders this year purchased 400 of the portable work devices for student and administrator use, and Sarasota County Schools officials say they bought six and are testing them out to see how they can best be used.
In Manatee, the upcoming iPad delivery comes on the heels of the district purchasing 243 others being used by administrators and department heads.
Technology leaders are studying what applications they plan to install on the iPads that will be used in science classes at Lee, Harllee, Lincoln, Johnson, Sugg and Haile middle schools.
“We’ll be looking at wireless microscopes as part of the tools, possibly some GPS (global positioning systems),” said Tina Barrio, district director of technology and information services.
Twenty five percent of the grant — $187,500 — was set aside for training teachers. As the iPads are used, they’ll study how students manage them and how they impact their education. Part of the grant includes a $50,000 contract for services with Florida Center for Interactive Media, a research group at Florida State University.
“We’re looking at developing online assessments the kids could take using their iPads that will show their knowledge of the content being taught,” Barrios said. “It’s using online content as opposed to using paper and pencil to get immediate feedback.”
So far this year, the district has spent more than $121,250 on 243 iPads with 25 percent of them being used in district departments such as technology and maintenance.
“We’ve used the iPod Touch previously, but the screens were so small and the iPad is much more conducive,” Barrios said. “For example, we’re using them in our warehouse for data entry and scanning because it’s a much more portable tool and the battery life is longer than a laptop.”
The remaining 75 percent of them are being used by administrators for classroom walkthroughs, when principals spend three to five minutes each day in a classroom collecting data about student and teacher performance.
Most of the more than 50 schools in the district used technology funds to buy two or three iPads, Barrios said. About 95 percent of the district’s principals are replacing an iPod Touch or palm pilot with the iPad because they’re old, starting to break or are no longer available.
“It’s really improved the walkthrough process,” said Williams Elementary Principal Paul Hockenbury. “The screen size is the biggest time saver. It’s a lot easier on your eyes, too.”
With the iPad, he said he is able to directly upload school data to the Internet, something administrators could not do before.
The district also is using iPads in a few Exceptional Student Education classes, said Nancy Beal, ESE director for the district. It’s working so well, district officials say they plan to purchase more.
“It’s definitely the future for a lot of our low cognitive kids because it allows us to more effectively communicate with our students,” Hockenbury said. “We have students who can’t verbalize, and some just respond more by pictures.”
Like 8-year-old Kaitlyn Russell, who has Angelman Syndrome and is in a varying exceptionalities class at Williams.
“We weren’t sure if the district was going to get any, so we bought one for her last year with the help of a United Cerebral Palsy grant (they applied personally) and private donor,” said her mother Laura Russell. “If she touches it, it talks for her. She can communicate with pictures and it’s very engaging.
“We’ve used devices before, but they were large and heavy.”
Russell’s son Kyle, a first-grader, also benefits from the iPad, she said.“He gets on and does math and spelling that is all academic-based,” she said.
But for Kaitlyn, she said, the iPad has been life-changing.
“Even with her motor difficulties, she has just made leaps and bounds having this a part of her everyday life,” her mom said. “I could not say enough about it. I think every kid should have it.”