There were a couple of Internet glitches, and some teachers had trouble signing on, but that didn't dampen their enthusiasm Monday as they collected the iPads that will become their primary instructional tools for the new school year in Los Angeles Unified.
At the start of a three-day training program at Roosevelt High and three other sites around the district, some 1,500 teachers from 47 schools received the state-of-the-art tablet computers they'll be using for lesson plans, class assignments, homework and tests.
"This is going to bring learning and instruction to life," said Charlene Tamplin, who teaches special education at Hillcrest Elementary in South Los Angeles. "We're going to be taking these kids places they've never been before.
"It's going to be magical."
The school board approved $30 million to buy 30,000 iPads for the 47 schools -- the first phase of the district's plan to equip every teacher and student with an iPad by this time next year. The purchase of 650,000 iPads is expected to total about $500 million, with the money coming from bonds that voters approved to fund campus improvements and technology.
The iPads come preloaded with software aligned to the Common Core, the national curriculum taking effect in 2014. Teachers spent Monday learning to navigate the tablet computers and will be trained today and Wednesday on ways to integrate technology into their classrooms. The plan calls for teachers to use the devices to teach three our four lessons during first semester and three to four comprehensive units during the second half of the year.
Oscar Jimenez, who teaches second- and third-grade English at Apple Academy in South Los Angeles, already had a good idea about the possibilities of the new instructional tool. His charter school was part of an iPad pilot project last year, and he was able to teach his students how to do online research and build websites as part of their regular coursework.
"It totally changed the way I teach, but in a good way," Jimenez said. "We brought in music and art and video. It made the kids excited to come to class."
The software was developed by Pearson Education Inc., and includes complete courses in math and English for grades pre-K through 12.
Judy Codding, the managing director of Pearson's Common Core project, said the lessons include easily update-able digital content, as well as instructional videos and games. But they're also designed to give teachers the freedom to introduce their own activities and strategies.
Nearly two-thirds of the campuses included in Phase One were chosen because they have large numbers of students who are African-American and English-learners -- two groups that were identified in a 2011 federal civil rights investigation as being shortchanged by the district in terms of academic opportunities.
About a dozen of the schools were recently built, so have upgraded wireless capability. The remaining five, like Apple Academy, are charters that are co-located on a traditional LAUSD campus. (Apple Academy is an independent charter and is not affiliated with the computer company.)
"This levels the playing field for our kids," said Elizabeth Pratt, the principal of Hillcrest Elementary, one of the Office of Civil Rights schools. "Our kids haven't had the same opportunities as students in other parts of the district, and that's social injustice. They're very excited to be part of something that is to pay off for them, forever."
Jaime Aquino, the district's deputy superintendent for instruction, said students will not get their iPads the first day of school, on Aug. 13. Instead, there will be a phased-in distribution which will include parent orientation sessions.
The tablet computers come with a heavy-duty protective case and a device that lets the district disable the iPad if it's stolen. There are also filters to prevent objectionable material from being downloaded onto the device. In addition, the district's contract with Apple provides that the company will replace lost, stolen or damaged tablets; parents don't have to cover the cost or buy insurance.
There have been a lot of concerns raised about broadband capacity, and whether a school's wi-fi network will be able to support hundreds or thousands of students.
Omar Del Cueto, the district's director of change management, said the district's networks exceed what's being recommended by state officials overseeing technology and assessments.
In addition, about 90 percent of the material is designed to be app-based, meaning it's contained in the iPad so doesn't require Internet access to use it.
Aquino said the iPads may be seen by some as an extravagance, but he believes that the ability of students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to compete for a job or a seat in a good college is well worth the cost.
"We talk about preparing for the '21st century workforce,' but we're 13 years into the 21st century," he said. "We're not preparing for the future. The future is now." ___