iPods a Big Hit In Local Classrooms

     Four schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have been using iPod Touches with lessons. Initial results show some improvement in math and reading scores. But district officials want more information before expanding the program district-wide.

     Students at Chapman School, along with McNeil Canyon, Paul Banks and West Homer Elementary schools have been using the iPods for the last year. State Representative Paul Seaton helped secure a little more than $52,000 in state money to buy the hand-held devices. 

     Each student at Chapman has access to his or her own iPod as well as the fifth graders at McNeil Canyon. But students at Paul Banks and West Homer are sharing. During a KPBSD school board work session Monday, Seaton pointed out that when moving forward with this program sharing may need to be eliminated. He said the results may even better if each student has his or her own. 

     Based on the data the district collected, Seaton said there were big improvements from the fall to the spring for students in 1st and 3rd grade for the number of words read correctly during lessons. 

     “Third grade, you see a difference in the increase of average words read correctly. Across the district it’s 40 words, and across those using the iPod Touches is 60 words,” he said.

     There was also an uptick in the average number of points gained in math for 3rd graders. District wide it was 23 and for the iPod schools, it was 37. School districts pay close attention to 3rd grade students because that’s generally either when they excel or potentially fall behind. Seaton also said there is overwhelming support for using the iPods for development based on both student and teacher surveys. 

     But Seaton said there was a deficiency in the pilot program. One of the agreements made with the district when this money was secured was to essentially extend the learning day by allowing the kids to check out the iPods. That wasn’t happening. He said he thinks some parents weren’t willing to be on the hook to replace a $200 iPod if something happened to it.

     “We can say we’re trying to make people responsible, but what we’re really doing is saying that those who are financially not capable are not going to take that risk. So those that we are wanting to accelerate their learning the most, a barrier went up,” he said.

     Board member Sunni Hilts agreed. She pointed out that the Anchorage School District is trying to expand its digital offerings in schools by having students bring in their own device. But she said that could instantly create a gap between the haves and the have-nots.

     “I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen with the parent that looks and says ‘hey, Joe has this and so he gets this kind of education. I can’t afford it and my kid’s not gonna get it?’ I don’t know how they’re going to deal with that,” she said.

     Hilts said she doesn’t think that should be an option for KPBSD. Another issue the board members and Seaton discussed was if the district rolls out this program on a larger scale there should be a uniform device. 

     “Changing devices all the time does not work,” Seaton said. “Changing devices means you get frustrated. You have to have the teachers learn this and how to teach with a different tool. You have four different tools in the classroom. It becomes difficult.”

     School Board Vice President Liz Downing said she wants whatever device the district uses to be multi-purpose.

     “What we use needs to be flexible because every six month technology doubles, and what is going to work for one purpose may not work for the other,” she said.

     For the most part the school board recognized the need to advance the district’s digital learning offerings, but members still need to work out a few details before making a request for additional state dollars. Board member Tim Navarre said he would like this pilot program continue for another year before branching out district-wide. 

     Seaton mentioned that whatever the district decided, the staff and administrators at each school need to be completely on board to get the results officials want to see.