Cuero students Power Up with iPads (video)

Sonny Long

Oct. 15, 2013 at 5:15 a.m.

Maraya Guzman, 12, takes a photo with her iPad to show the progression of tropism in Lisa Wright's seventh-grade class at Cuero Junior High School.

Maraya Guzman, 12, takes a photo with her iPad to show the progression of tropism in Lisa Wright's seventh-grade class at Cuero Junior High School.   MASON TRINCA for The Victoria Advocate

CUERO - Veteran teacher Lisa Wright sees the excitement on her students' faces when they break out their iPads in the classroom.

"We are using a 21st century tool to teach 21st century students," said the Cuero Junior High School science teacher. "It's communication and collaboration."

Wright asked her class to look up - using Google Images - real-world examples of terms like photosynthesis and geotropism.

"Science isn't in a textbook, is it?" Wright asked her class. "Do we read passages and answer questions? No. We build things; we experience things; we make projects.

"We're learning about the natural world in real life."

Wright's class and more than 1,400 other Cuero school district students have received personal iPads as part of the district's Power Up project.

"I like how we can research on them to do our schoolwork," said Summer Gamez, 13. "It's way better than textbooks."

Classmate Priscilla Humphreys, 12, agreed.

"I like using it to learn new things. There are things on here that aren't in textbooks. It's a lot more fun," she said.

The initiative was more than a year in the making, as James Coburn, the district's textbook coordinator, advised administrators that funding for textbooks had been decreased.

"We started looking at options," said Paula Brown, the district's technology coordinator.

The district compiled a "vision" team, consisting of administrators, teachers and parents.

"We looked at a lot of tools - iPads, notebooks, laptops, Android tablets. The team decided on iPads," Brown said.

The district then upgraded its network with that work completed in June.

Instructional technologist Libby Barber said the district adopted a blended method of distributing the iPads.

"Some districts we contacted used a management model where the devices stayed at school with an institutional ID," Barber said. Other districts gave the students the device still in the box.

"We wanted our students to have a personal connection with the device. They take them home. They create their own Apple ID."

Students can even put on some of their own apps and music.

"Research shows that they will take better care of it if they feel like it's theirs. They have ownership over it," Barber said.

Brown, Barber and superintendent Jim Haley emphasized that the program, dubbed "Power Up," is not simply about the device itself.

"It's a three- to five-year plan to not only incorporate the technology but to also shift the learning paradigm," said Barber. "It's a learner-centered, project-based learning model.

"If you make the device the focus, you're going to miss out. It's just going to be an add-on, and that's not what we want."

Another thing the district hopes to accomplish is teaching its students certain skills.

"The goals we adopted included a list of skills we want our students to graduate with," Barber said.

These include communication and collaboration skills, research and information fluency skills and technology concepts.

"These are skills our students need in the 21st century to be successful. These are must-have skills."

Haley said the future of traditional textbooks is in flux.

"We have not purchased any textbooks this year. If we do buy textbooks, we need to do an evaluation on what best fits Cuero or whether or not we even need a textbook," said the superintendent.

Haley said Power Up was funded through the district's fund balance and instructional materials allotment.

The program cost about $3 million, with $2 million of that dedicated to rewiring the district and $1 million for the equipment, including tablets and laptops, said Haley.

Travis Eichhorn, 12, said he knows what he likes most about having an iPad.

"I like to play the games," he said.



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