Tablet use set to triple in parish classrooms



There are roughly 540 LearnPads in St. Mary Parish classrooms and that number will nearly triple in the coming school year if $450,000 of previously dedicated funds are released during the school board’s meeting today.
The tablet-like devices are used primarily in elementary classrooms, putting a computer in each child’s hands. Teachers control what students can see and do on the device.
While the devices are in two junior high schools on the west end of the parish, “We do feel that the system lends itself more to elementary because there’s more elementary content. You will possibly start seeing it more in the middle schools and the high schools,” said Kevin Derise, chief technology officer for St. Mary’s public schools.
Derise said the Android device is attached to a store similar to Google’s Play Store that provides a host of educational applications teachers can select to use with students. The closed system does not allow students to minimize their work screen and do anything else on the tablet, Derise said.
“An iPad is an excellent consumer device. The problem is if you gave that to 26 kids in a classroom, the teacher has no control over where they can go on that iPad … the LearnPad is the software that runs the classroom … Students can’t minimize and go play a game. They essentially become kind of a captive audience,” Derise said.
The district, he said, will provide guidance in choosing which apps will best suit the curriculum however, “if a teacher comes across an app they feel should be included there is a process to add to the database for all teachers in the parish to access.”
It costs $12,500 to outfit each classroom with the devices. Derise said that total pays for 26 tablets, a cart to store them in and wireless access in which all 26 tablets connect to one access point.
The LearnPads aren’t going to replace textbooks in classrooms — yet.
The primary reason, Derise said, is cost. While a consumer may purchase an e-book at 50 percent savings or more over its comparable printed format, textbook publishers do not typically give discounts, he said. He expects that to change as more LearnPads come into the market.
LearnPads were piloted in St. Mary Parish after a grant from the Young Foundation provided them at M.D. Shannon Elementary in Morgan City. While there are no direct studies to determine absolutely that LearnPads improve education results, Derise said there is observational evidence.
“The enthusiasm of teachers and students relating to delivering lessons and greater motivation of students hasn’t waned during school year,” Derise said.
The best thing about the versatile device, he said, is “it puts a computer in every kid’s hands. It’s not here we have school time and here we have computer time. You integrate it together. It’s seamless. The computer and instruction are one.”
Also up for discussion at today’s meeting of the St. Mary Parish School Board are funding repairs and upgrades at several schools across the parish, review of the quarterly group health insurance premium-to-claims summary and an executive session during which the board will review the superintendent’s yearly evaluation.
The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the Central Office Complex and is open to the public.

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