A new kind of school supply: Rock Hill district to kick off iRock

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comAugust 10, 2013 

After more than a year of planning and pilot programs, the Rock Hill school district is ready to launch iRock, a technology initiative that will implement a 1:1 program in hundreds of classrooms across the district.

The school district will spend about $9 million over the next two years to implement the program.

Who gets an iPad?

Beginning this school year, the iRock initiative will provide an iPad to every fourth- through eighth-grade student and all ninth-grade students at South Pointe High School.

The iPads will be used in the classroom, but students who want to take one home can pay a $65 fee, said iRock project lead Christopher Smith. That gets them a Device Annual Protection Plan, which allows for one-time replacement of the screen or the entire device in case of loss, theft or damage.

For students who cannot afford the DAPP fee, but still want to take the device home, the district has a plan in place, associate superintendent Luanne Kokolis said..

“Our foundation has raised enough money to pay the device protection plan for any family who is in crisis,” she said.

Families must complete an application for these scholarships, providing documentation of their financial crisis, which can include loss of employment or loss of residence, Kokolis said.

What kind of iPads will be used?

The devices are second-generation 16-gigabyte Apple iPads. For a normal consumer, the iPad 2 retails for $399.

“These iPads are district-owned, but student-managed,” said Smith.

Students and their parents will have control over the devices’ apps and content. Each student must have his or her own Apple ID, a unique username and password.

That will allow students access to the “cloud,” a digital storage space that lets any device registered under the same Apple ID “sync” or connect with each other, so files and applications are accessible from any of those devices.

The district is also requiring that each student have an email account, preferably one through Gmail, Google’s e-mail service. That allows for the use of “Google Docs,” a document- and file-sharing system that includes a word processor, a spreadsheet tool and more.

Each iPad also comes with a Griffin case designed to protect it from damage. Of the thousands of iPads in the hands of students in pilot classrooms last year, Smith said, only three were damaged to the extent that they needed to be replaced – and all three were in the possession of teachers.

Why implement a 1:1 initiative?

“A lot of parents see the iPad and think of ‘Angry Birds,’” Smith said. “But there are more than 500,000 apps for education.”

In other districts where 1:1 computing initiatives – in which each student has his or her own device, rather than sharing – have been implemented, he said, schools have seen improved achievement levels, a decrease in the dropout rate and an increase in the high school graduation rate.

Kokolis and Smith said using technology such as iPads in the classroom on a regular basis is necessary in today’s society.

“We’ve got to change our way of delivering information and helping children use information in a safe way,” said Kokolis.

And the iPads won’t be used all the time. They’re a tool, she said, just like a library book.

With individual devices, students and teachers will be able to tailor content to fit their proficiency level in a subject. It personalizes education and levels the playing field, Smith said, because every student has access to the same tools.

Teachers won’t mandate the use of iPads or apps for homework, Smith said, since not all students will be taking a device home.

Helena Hubbard, a seventh-grade student at Rawlinson Road Middle School, said some of her classrooms had iPads last year, but it will be better this year when every student has his or her own.

“Sometimes, they’d only be in one class and we’d have to exchange them,” she said. “If we were working on a project, that could be hard.”

One of the best things about each student having a device is that the learning never has to stop, Smith said. Students who take a device home can continue to use learning apps to practice their skills.

What about safety?

While in school, the iPads will be subject to the Internet blocks in place on WiFi networks. Outside of school, the iPads can access Internet through any WiFi. That means any content available on the Internet is available on an iPad.

Many Internet providers have options for setting up filters on home WiFi networks to prevent students from reaching inappropriate content, Smith said, but on public networks, like those at a coffee shop or a restaurant, there are usually no such filters.

“There’s going to be a lot of digital citizenship during the first week of school,” said Norris Williams, principal of Dutchman Creek Middle School, where 940 iPads will be distributed.

“Digital citizenship” is the term used to describe responsible Internet use, Smith said. Students will be taught about appropriate and inappropriate content and behavior online, as well as online safety.

“It’s not about blocking the sites, it’s about educating” students, he said.

Students are subject to the terms of “acceptable use of technology,” spelled out by the district.

Every parent with a student who will be participating in iRock is required to attend a parent orientation, and both the parent and student must sign a contract agreeing to comply with the district’s “Personal Mobile Computing Guide.” That includes a section on “acceptable use of technology,” and prohibits cyber-bullying, copyright infringement and other illegal or disruptive activities.

The district recommends parents and guardians go to commonsensemedia.org, a website that provides reviews of everything from apps to movies to help parents make age-appropriate decisions about what media their child views and hears.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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