iPads, Android tablets spread in Florida classrooms

VerizonApple iPadPalm Beach County School District

Some see Apple iPads and Android tablets as luxury items. But one day soon for students and families across Florida they will join the list of must-have school supplies, along with backpacks, pencils and lunch pails.

Tablets are a hit with consumers wanting a screen larger than a smartphone to send email, surf the Web and watch videos on the go without paying prices. And they are the future for local classrooms, private and public.

"It's awesome," said 13-year old Christopher Chong of his Samsung Galaxy tablet with 7-inch touch screen and dual cameras , which he uses for science, math and language arts classes. "I can go on the Internet to research projects any time I want. And my teacher can email my test grades at night." Bonus: The As and Bs seventh-grader is allowed to occasionally play games and check Facebook.

Chong's campus, Westlake Preparatory School & Academy in Davie, has begun distributing Samsung Galaxy tablets to each of its 126 students.

"Our program represents the very latest, cutting-edge program," said Headmaster Emiritus Bill Pepitone. "In terms of hardware, using the 4G Verizon network and the use of our technology for student support and learning."

Science teacher Tim Farver uses the tablets to hand out and correct daily assignments, and to email multimedia presentations and lecture video to his students.

"Because it's paperless, I don't have to worry about losing papers, and I can grade from home or on vacation."

About 50 Westlake students use the Android-based devices in the classroom during the day, and for research and homework at night. Parents voluntarily pay a discounted price of $150 to own the tablet. Through a special program with Verizon, they also pay $40 per monthly for service.

"We are in ongoing discussions with numerous individual schools" in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said Douglas Glenn, Verizon national accounts manager.

"Most educators realize the inevitability of mobile device learning and the huge impact it will have on how students learn 21st Century skills," Glenn said. "Today's youth expect ubiquitous access to their lessons, allowing them to complete course work on a mobile device any time, anywhere."

By state mandate, soon swipe, download and send will be official classroom lexicon. Earlier this year lawmakers passed a law requiring all instructional materials used for public K-12 schools be provided in electronic or digital format by the 2015-16 school year.

And South Florida schools are leading the charge.

The iPad is the tablet of choice for the Palm Beach County School District. Last year the district launched a pilot program providing iPads to more than 160 students in nine schools. This year it issue iPads to 1,500 students, paid for by federal funds, said Gary Weidenhamer, the district's director of educational technology. The academic payoff has yet to be assessed, Weidenhamer said, but schools across the country and world constantly contact his district for guidance in phasing in tablets and similar technology. And his students seem to be equally enthused and energized by their new touch-screen tools. Some have math textbooks downloaded, others swipe and type on the screen to take pop quizzes. "The kids absolutely love it, just to get their hands on the tablets," Weidenhamer said. "And the teachers love it because they are confronted with new ways to teach in the class." dvasquez@tribune.com, 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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