Pass / Fail

So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Coachella Valley at forefront of iPad wave in Southern California schools

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Temperatures were nearing 100 degrees in Coachella Valley, but dozens of teachers were outside practicing filmmaking. 

They were using iPads to record each other miming golf swings, tennis shots and free throws.

Back in the airconditioned classrooms, they learned to edit the shots into short videos using iMovie. The teachers were taking part in training to learn how to incorporate the tablets into their lessons. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District may have grabbed national headlines last month when it committed to a pilot program putting iPads in the hands of every teacher and student at select schools, but the relatively tiny  Coachella Valley Unified School District in Riverside county is a year ahead.

Coachella finished it's pilot program in June that put 5,600 iPads in teachers' and students' hands. It will roll it out the program to all of the district's 18,000 students in the fall.

“The kids loved it. I mean, my attendance was up. The kids were excited to come to class. So for that alone, it was great," said Judith Capper, a middle school math and science teacher who participated in the pilot program. "I don’t know if any more learning was acquired, but I do know that they were more turned on and excited. That’s the first step.” 

The program isn't cheap. Local voters approved a $45 million bond last November to pay for the students' iPads, teachers' laptops and improvements to the district's Internet capability.  The district has already spent about half of that.

"We cannot be left behind the advancement and technology in learning," said Superintendent Darryl Adams. "We want to be at the forefront, not on the back burner of 21st Century learning, and that’s where we feel like we are."

Being at the forefront also means being the ones to figure things out when they go wrong. During the pilot program, officials realized they’d have to spend about $8 million to upgrade wireless capacity at the district’s 23 schools.

"We did not anticipate the intense impact on the infrastructure," Adams said. "I mean, it was crashing systems left and right."

The district is also still figuring out which software to use. As of yet, officials haven't decided which, if any, electronic textbooks to use.

Coachella's deal with Apple did not include software from education materials giant Pearson - something that will be included on iPads that are being shipped to L. A. Unified. Adams said he is now negotiating that matter with Apple. 

In the meantime, the teachers are using mass market software to incorporate the devices into their lesson plans.

Last year, high school science teacher Jodie Capper - Judith Capper's sister-in-law - didn’t have enough frogs and rats for students who wanted to do dissections. When her class got iPads, she downloaded apps that allowed them to perform virtual dissections.

"I have two apps on here that do frog and rat dissections. The internal organs are pristine," she said. "You can look at them in a 3D view."

Capper said the apps were "awesome" - even better than the real thing, because sometimes students cut too deep and can't do the lesson.

"They end up ruining all the internal organs, and you can’t study them," Capper said.

Adams, Coachella's Superintendent, said the initiative has already resulted in higher enrollment numbers for the upcoming school year.

It had one other bonus: it made the district much more attractive for educators. 

"Before it was hard to recruit, because - number one - it’s really hot. Number two, it’s a very poor district. And we don’t have the greatest test scores," Adams said. "But we’re getting good people now. They want to come, because it’s exciting. You’re actually transforming the way education works."

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