The jury is still out on how much, exactly, students benefit from having tablets in the classroom. But as a part of its large and ongoing effort to keep hold of the education technology market, Apple released a video Tuesday to show how students benefit from having Apple products in the classroom.
The video showcases Apple's education efforts in Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland. The suburban Washington, D.C., school system has given an iPad to each student and teacher at four of its middle schools, all of which receive federal Title I funding -- a federal program to help schools with a high percentage of low-income students.
The video focuses primarily on Buck Lodge Middle School, where students use the tablets to shoot video, create presentations and work with educational software as part of their daily class work. Proponents of equipping students with iPads say that using the tablets improves learning in several ways, including giving teachers personalized data from apps to show where students need the most help.
The school district was also highlighted as a success story in an education report Apple released last week, which included positive statistics from iPad-using schools across the country. According to that report, 175 percent more students at the Prince George's schools that use the tablet programs are at "advanced"-level math compared with similar schools without iPad programs. There's also been a 35 percent increase in the number of students in the iPad programs who've reached an "advanced" reading level, according to Apple's statistics.
Technology programs like this one have their critics. A much-touted initiative at the Los Angeles Unified School District was halted after fielding harsh criticism -- mostly over questions about the contract negotiations between Apple and the school district. But the school system also faced concerns that students were getting around browser restrictions on the tablets in order to use them for play, rather than academics. Others have questioned whether the benefits of these programs justify the cost of equipping every student with a $400 to $500 tablet.
At Buck Lodge, only select students are allowed to take their iPads home -- everyone else leaves them at school each day. But principal James Richardson said that he's never seen a problem with how students used the tablets. Nor has he noticed other problems that critics have raised, he said, such as the worry that equipping kids with expensive gadgets raises their risk of being robbed.
Even with 400 iPads in student homes, Richardson said, "I didn't see any issues that alarmed me, where I would say I don't want to do this again."
In fact, Richardson said he's seen so much success come out of the tablet program at his school that he would like to see all students take the tablets home. Even rolling out one-to-one tablet programs in the classrooms, Richardson said, has been exciting for students and for teachers -- who don't have to spend as much time on non-teaching tasks, such as copying worksheets. Changing the classroom setting to work with tablets, Richardson said, has made converts of nearly all of his staff -- even those who were wary of the tablet classroom concept when it was introduced three years ago.
"Our attendance has increased; behavior problems have decreased," he said. "We're changing the learning culture in our schools."
Buck Lodge Middle School has gotten a lot of attention on the national stage for its tech-forward programs. Earlier this year, it was chosen as the site where President Obama launched the "ConnectED" initiative, a joint push by the Federal Communications Commission and companies including Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon to get high-speed wireless and next-generation broadband in schools around the country.