By Howard Blume
Teachers returned to school Monday to work with the Apple iPads that could soon be in the hands of every student in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The hope is that the effort will revolutionize teaching and boost achievement — as well as put the district’s mostly low-income, minority students on an even footing with more prosperous students who have such devices at home, at school or both.
The training that kicked off Monday is part of a $30-million, first-year program to give tablets to 31,000 students across all grade levels and about 1,500 teachers in 47 schools. In about a year, the nation’s second-largest school system hopes to give iPads to all of its 600,000-plus students, at a cost of about $500 million.
Teachers are gathering at six schools this week for training. The first order of business in classroom C-103 at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights was to get the wireless Internet running. That took about three hours, a minor setback for instructor Kim Deveaux, who was dispatched from New York City by Apple to train teachers in Los Angeles.
Deveaux had plenty to do, like explain how to turn on the machines. “And the up and down buttons on the side,” she said, “that’s the volume.”
The L.A. Board of Education in June chose Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple as the exclusive provider of the tablets. The British firm Pearson was chosen to provide curriculum.
The district is paying $678 per device — higher than tablets cost in stores — with pre-loaded educational software. They also come with a sturdy case and a three-year warranty. The devices will be paid for through voter-approved school construction bonds.
“I am in awe that we can do this for a district like L.A.,” said Deputy Supt. Jaime Aquino, who stopped in C-103 to give a pep talk. “What a great way to start this new year, as I like to say, an early Christmas gift for you and your kids.”
There also were pre-recorded motivational videos, including one of a student orchestra using iPads instead of musical instruments.
“Do you know how many schools would love to have an orchestra, and we can’t afford to buy instruments,” Aquino said encouragingly. With an iPad, he said, “look at what we can do.”
In another video, a teacher identified only as Luis said he wished he’d had such tools as an iPad when he entered school not knowing English. Instructional coordinator Carla Gutierrez had to repeat his words because no one could make the volume loud enough to hear directly.
But the technical glitches didn’t dampen the enthusiasm. Patti Hatashita, who teaches disabled students at Cimarron Elementary in Hawthorne, was genuinely moved by a video of a student with limited verbal skills who could communicate using an iPad.
Some of Hatashita’s students have speech difficulties: “This could really help with communication and learning vocabulary.”
The Apple instructor showed how the touch-screen device transcribes speech and also highlights and reads words aloud at any desired pace, with the sweep of a finger.
These are things that modern computers do, but few schools have had them, including Cimarron.
“The possibilities are limitless,” said Hatashita. “Some teachers are more tech savvy than others,” she admitted, as she slipped her older-model keyboard phone into her purse.
Deveaux also discussed classroom management, such as having students turn the tablets face down during lectures to avoid distraction. And when students walk around the room, they should clutch the tablets to their chest with two arms, to reduce the chances of dropping them.
The tablets will have controls so that students, for example, can’t use them to buy anything online and no one, including teachers, can access iTunes.
Omar Del Cueto, a senior technology administrator, said stolen devices would be rendered inoperable. They can be reactivated only by the district.
Joe Castro, an instructor at Western Elementary in Vermont Square, said he was pleased that the district was “finally catching up…. We’re teaching what is out in the real world for these kids.”
All the same, he added, “We have to remember the technology does not replace the good teaching that we do.”