The iPad distribution was “two steps forward and then a little dance to the side,” says Joan Hales, a teacher at Mar Vista Middle School. “I had hoped the textbooks would be interactive, but they’re not.”
Three weeks into the school year, about 10 percent of her classroom time is spent with iPads, Hales says, “but I think within a few weeks we’ll be up to 50 percent.” One of the “little bumps in the road” is that “These are 12-year-olds, and though it’s in their contract to charge the iPads every night, the first week many of the students didn’t have enough charge.”
Hales uses iPads in her special education class. For students whose “executive-function skills are challenged, the iPad is a miracle. The devices help these students to keep everything together in one place.”
Mike Dotson, another Mar Vista teacher, is optimistic about the iPad’s potential, saying that it will be useful in preparing students for standardized tests.
“In six months to a year, we’ll be bangin’ on all cylinders,” he says, “but for the time being, it’s very time-consuming. It’s difficult learning to utilize all the apps while trying to teach utilizing all the apps.”
But on August 15, many wondered whether the district had the infrastructure to bang on all cylinders. An email from a teacher making the rounds said that the iPads had crashed. “Students have no restrictions, and access to district internet is gone,” the email said, and “the applications where they submit homework and have access to textbooks are gone.” More days of instruction would be lost while the iPads were reloaded one by one. Phone calls to teachers and librarians at several campuses confirmed that the problem was widespread.
Although many school districts are embracing new technology, some private schools have a different philosophy. A 2011 article in the New York Times titled “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” begins: “The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud.”
The Waldorf School, a chain whose local facility is located in City Heights, encourages “a media-free environment as much as possible during childhood through the ninth grade,” says Julie Joinson, director of admissions.
“Computers, if you let them, can substitute for actually learning skills. Computers will do spell checks for you, they correct your grammar, cut, paste, and regurgitate Wikipedia. Some students are even forgetting how to write in cursive — there’s something to be said for cursive writing and basic motor skills.
“By giving students computers to stop the flow of students to charter schools, what are we saying? A material gift is more important than an education?” ■