LITTLE FALLS - You could see the excitement in the students' faces Wednesday at Lincoln Elementary School in Little Falls.
Two fifth-grade classes were busy working together on their second edition of Lincoln News, the elementary school newspaper. Several students sat in groups in the hallway putting the newspaper together. The students didn't need desks or computers because each student has an iPad.
Superintendent Curt Tryggestad said the school district started a pilot project with the nearly 60 fifth-graders at Lincoln for each have an iPad at the start of this school year. The project quickly evolved into the district purchasing 140 of them for each of its schools with Lindbergh Elementary School and the middle and the high schools each having 30 iPads and S.G. Knight Elementary School in Randall receiving 20 iPads.
Tryggestad said the district spent about $91,000 from capital funds and other funds to purchase the iPads. Tryggestad said the district spends about $200,000 a year on curriculum and the iPads purchase was something the district had planned.
"We've been looking at 21st century skills for awhile by using technology as a tool to teach kids," Tryggestad said. "These iPads do not substitute the teachers' roles. They are used as a tool to help get the students more involved in their learning.
"The classrooms don't run off paper anymore, we do it all electronically. We've adapted to the universal, digital world. Much of our curriculum, we still have the hard-copy books, but we also have the electric version too. Textbooks are expensive to buy and are only as accurate as they are dated. Using the iPads, or any electronic resources, offer more up to date information."
Tryggestad said that the iPads are still part of the district's pilot project, He could not say if more will be purchased or not and he said he could not say if the iPads are saving the district money.
"We're just using the money to the best effect," he said.
Mark Diehl, the district's technology coordinator, said the students are taking≈
good care of the iPads. He said none of the iPads has been stolen, lost or damaged. Diehl expects the iPads to last four to six years.
It's cutting edge stuff right now, said Diehl. The kids have the world at their fingertips.
Diehl said the students have access to the Internet and they each have their own e-mail accounts. Diehl said the district has a web content filter to make sure the students do not explore any inappropriate websites. When the iPads go home with the students it is up to the parent to monitor what the child looks at.
Little Falls is one of a select few school districts to have iPads for students. Diehl said the only other districts that he knows of in the state that also have iPads are at the high schools of Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop and West St. Paul. However, Diehl said there are several districts in the state exploring the idea.
We're one of very few schools doing this at an elementary level, said Diehl.
Fifth-grade teacher Shawn Alholm said the students have been learning so much by having the iPads, including how the technology works and learning more information about various topics. Alholm said if a student doesn't know a word or how to pronounce it they can easily look it up. If they want to learn more about a historical person, it's all at their fingertips. Alholm said there also are educational websites on the iPads that also help students with their mathematics.
Alholm said he has worked a lot of extra nights to keep up with the students on the iPads. He said the students caught on fast on how to use them and also have taught him a thing or two. Alholm said he tries to incorporate projects for the students to do on their iPads, thus the creation of the school newspaper.
I couldn't say if the students are learning any faster with the iPads, said Alholm. But I can say they are learning about more things.
Alholm said communication between the students and himself also has greatly improved with the e-mail capability.
If students have a question at night when they're doing their homework, they can e-mail me and I can respond back right away instead of waiting until morning, said Alholm. Most of the time it is just a quick question and then they can finish their homework. If we didn't have these they'd have to call and a lot of students don't want to do that.
Alholm said the class also does not use any paper, such as notebooks. He said it is all paperless, except for a few workbooks.
This is the best thing we've ever done in my 18 years of teaching here, said Alholm. They have never come to school without it and if they do forget it their parents will bring it in because the students can't live without them.
Fifth-graders Ethan Wickstrom and Logan Linhardt both said that using the iPads has been fun and they've learned a lot more than they would have without them. The students also said that it wasn't hard for them to figure out how to use them.
With a chuckle, Ethan said that carrying the iPad around is much easier than carrying a lot of textbooks around.
It helps you focus more on your homework, said Logan. You don't rush through it as fast. And I like to play the educational games and listen to music on them (when we are given the free time to do so).
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.