One-to-One Laptop Schools/Texas

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iPod Touch Initiative in Mansfield, Texas

Introduction

In spring 2009, Mansfield Independent School District (MISD) in Mansfield, Texas introduced the Apple iPod Touch, a popular touch-screen handheld computer, to its pre-K students. Mansfield Independent School District is located in a suburban area near Dallas, Texas. The school district has 39 schools, and enrolled over 31,000 students in 2009 (MISD Schools, 2009).[1] MISD strives for a safe and comfortable environment for its culturally diverse student body, and aims to give students the skills necessary to succeed in real world situations, where technology is a critical element (About MISD, 2009).[2] The iPod Touch initiative is in line with these goals.

The primary objective for creating the iPod Touch initiative at MISD was to help pre-K students achieve the goals outlined in Texas pre-K education standards (Texas Education Agency, 2009).[3] These guidelines explain the importance of introducing technology to young students and the specific skills they should have at the pre-K level in Texas schools. Introducing technology skills early in the students’ education is vital to preparing them for a future that is certain to be rich with technology. MISD decided to implement the initiative in order to increase students’ knowledge of basic concepts in a fun and interactive way that would also teach technology skills. The district also viewed the initiative as a way to help reduce language barriers for the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students, so that they can progress at the same rate as their English-speaking classmates. MISD has created a short YouTube video to promote their new and unique program.

For the initial implementation of the iPod Touch initiative, each pre-K classroom at MISD received 3 iPod Touches, along with other accessories like docks and cases. The teachers take advantage of the many free iPod Touch applications that are suitable to this age group, such as games that teach students about the alphabet, shapes, and counting. The interactive touch-screen interface of the device benefits students with different learning styles, such as visual or tactile learners. The district has also found that students learning English benefit greatly from iPod Touch applications that connect pictures to words (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 2009).[4]

The planning process for the iPod Touch initiative is ongoing; plans are developed as funds become available to purchase new iPods (Personal communication, 2009).[5] Pre-K teachers received training on the iPod Touches prior to the implementation. They learned the basics of using the devices, along with the many options for classroom use, like applications and podcasts. The applications they used focused on early childhood learning. The day of training generated excitement among the pre-K teachers, who quickly felt prepared to introduce the devices to students. Ongoing support is available for these teachers as the initiative continues (MISD Blog, 2009).[6]

Importance of the Initiative

The iPod Touch initiative at MISD introduced new and innovative technology to young students who are at an ideal age for acquiring new skills. This will help to prepare them for the remainder of their education and beyond, as schools and workplaces continue to include technology, requiring everyone to keep up with constant changes. Additionally, people of all ages today constantly use mobile devices such as cell phones and MP3 players. Since even young children are using such devices, they may already be comfortable with how to use them, which can help to reduce technical training time in the classroom and allow teachers to focus their time on lessons instead.

The Internet also plays a significant role in education today, giving students access to resources worldwide and encouraging collaboration and communication among each other and with peers in other schools. Wi-Fi enabled devices like the iPod Touch allow schools to provide Internet access to students without having to invest in expensive desktop computers. While the iPod Touch is not a replacement for a computer, it does offer many of the same features for a fraction of the cost. This can help to put computers into the hands of more children than ever before, giving today’s students constant access to information regardless of their economic situation.

Recent research has shown the possible impact of mobile devices in learning today. Researchers for a 2009 report on this topic, which is entitled “Pockets of Potential,” believe that since mobile devices have become so ubiquitous for students today, taking advantage of them for education only makes sense. They reported that the number of children ages 4-14 who own mobile devices has grown rapidly since 2005 – this includes cell phones, iPods, and pocket gaming devices. Providing opportunities for students to also use these devices in the classroom closes the divide between home and school. It also shows students how what they learn in school corresponds with the real world (Joan Ganz Cooney Center, 2009).[7] In the case of the MISD initiative, the iPod Touch is both a music/video player and a pocket gaming device, so the implementation at the pre-K grade level makes perfect sense.

Successes and Problems

Since the iPod Touch initiative at MISD has only been in progress for about 6 months, it is difficult to quantify success in terms of educational achievement or test scores. The greatest achievement of the initiative so far is the success of the implementation in the pre-K classrooms. Teachers have found that the pre-K students are naturals at using the iPod Touch and are having fun with the classroom activities that involve the devices. There was some hesitation to giving iPod Touches to such young students but they had no trouble learning to use them. Teachers also learned new technology skills and were excited to introduce the iPods to their students. This success led to future plans for implementation in other grade levels throughout the school district (Personal communication, 2009).[5]

The majority of the problems with the initiative so far have been technical. Not every school in the district has wireless Internet access, so the iPod Touches cannot always be used to access the Web. The devices also need to be synced regularly with a desktop computer, and depending on the number of devices being used in a classroom, this can take up a lot of a teacher’s time, which would be better spent on educational tasks. Another problem standing in the way of a more widespread implementation across the school district is funding. MISD used grant funding to purchase the iPod Touches they have today, and will continue to purchase more iPods as more funding becomes available.

What's Next?

Soon after the iPod Touches were implemented in the pre-K classrooms at MISD, they were introduced to 5th and 8th grade science classrooms. Each class received enough devices for every student to have one to use. The teachers in these classrooms have used the iPod Touches to share videos and Web sites with the students, along with PowerPoint presentations and iPod Touch applications related to science topics. Again, using these touch-screen devices will appeal to different styles of learning and may help to increase students’ science knowledge. The next implementation will be at the high school level, where the devices will be used for podcasting, collaborative activities, and online research. MISD hopes to continue to increase the usage of the iPod Touch across the district, as funds become available. Instructional technology staff members at MISD have also created a social networking community for teachers involved in the iPod Touch initiative, to make it easy for teachers to share their successes and struggles with the devices (Personal communication, 2009; MISD Blog, 2009).[5] [6]

Summary

The iPod Touch initiative at Mansfield Independent School District is the first of its kind for the district, pairing innovative hardware and software to provide new and exciting learning experiences for its students. The project overall has been a successful one, and the district will continue to add iPod Touches to more of its classrooms as often as they are able to do so. One of the school administrators involved in the initiative said this of the pre-K students: “There's no fear. It's just endless what they can do.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 2009).[4] This quote perfectly demonstrates the reason that the initiative will be successful at MISD as it continues to grow.