JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
The Randolph Field Independent School District received about 1,000 iPads for students to use this school year as part of a $1.7 million Department of Defense educational grant.
Around 600 of the latest model iPads were individually assigned to students in grades 6-12, while the rest were divided among classrooms at Randolph Elementary School. Middle and high school students may take the tablets home, as they would textbooks.
Lance Johnson, Randolph Field ISD superintendent, believes the devices are suitable for 21st-century children.
"Students in our classrooms are digital natives; they're growing up with smartphones in their hands, so now we're trying to reach them on that level," he said. "Teachers, while still the expert (in class), no longer have to be the ultimate vessel of knowledge. The iPads are simply a tool to enhance and engage students' learning experience."
Johnson said assigning tablets is his school district's way of implementing the "one-to-one" initiative, whose purpose is to close the technology gap between schools and students. Other schools countrywide have done so by offering laptops.
Randolph Field ISD teachers also received tablets in January so they could include them in their curriculum this year.
"We expect a more hands-on, intuitive and impactful learning environment," Mark Malone, Randolph Field ISD secondary schools principal, said. "The iPads won't replace teachers, but enhance how they deliver information to students."
For Deborah Pannabecker, a 10-year Randolph High School science teacher, tablet technology allows students to produce work they couldn't do with pen and paper.
"Apps that let kids make movies, record their voices or create barcodes that can be scanned hyperlinking to other online resources allow them to show us what they really know," she said. "What were once static cardboard poster projects can now become 'living' and interactive."
Network restrictions are in place for students accessing the Internet at school, Johnson said, but they can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots at home if desired, although parental supervision is advised.
Any tablet misuse will result in disciplinary action based on students' code of conduct.
The allocation of tablets marks another way in which the educational system is using what's available in the marketplace to improve standards.
"We're not trying to be trendsetters; we're trying to catch up and discover how children learn and interact in today's world," Johnson said. "We want the iPad to be the most primitive device a kindergartener will know by the time they graduate from high school.
"When our graduates enter college and the workplace, we want them to not only stand out and compete with students next door, but from around the world."