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Gainesville school may pilot program using iPads
Middle school teacher Eddie Nemec holds an Apple iPad as he give a presentation on the device's classroom uses Monday during a Gainesville school board meeting. - photo by Tom Reed

The face, or make that interface, of learning could look a bit different in the fall at Gainesville Middle School.

According to Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, the school may start an Apple iPad pilot program.

The school has extra funds that can be used only to purchase technology and was in the process of ordering a similar product with a smaller screen. But Dyer said she asked school officials to hold off on the order until more information could be gathered about the iPad.

After attending a recent Apple education summit, Dyer said during Monday’s school board meeting that she favors the iPad over the iPod touch, which the middle school was planning to order.

For a few hundred dollars more — with a total that is about the equivalent of “two textbooks and a box of paper” — the school could give students access to a tool with “limitless possibilities,” Dyer said.

During the board meeting, middle school teacher Eddie Nemec demonstrated a few of the iPad’s capabilities.

“Theoretically, the students can have all of their textbooks in a library and flip the pages using their finger,” Nemec said. “If there is a word that they don’t understand, they can click on it and open the dictionary to look up the definition. If they are looking at a map, they can zoom in for a closer look.”

Students also could watch videos, have access to teacher-generated PowerPoint presentations covering class lessons and create presentations using the device.

The iPad also would allow teachers to generate quizzes for students and give them immediate feedback after they answer the questions. Overall, the device would allow students to take a more active role in their learning, officials said.

Dyer recently observed a similar device being used in Forsyth County classrooms. With those resources available, administrators there say they’ve had to buy fewer supplemental materials like maps and globes, because students have access to interactive versions of those materials through their handheld equipment.

An insurance policy is available to cover the iPads, and there are also measures that can be taken to restrict what students download to the device and what they can access on the Internet.

All in all, Dyer said she is excited about the possibility of piloting the use of iPads in sixth-grade classrooms at the middle school, but ultimately it will be up to the school to decide whether to purchase them.

In other business, the board voted to suspend the previously approved calendar for the 2010-2011 school year to allow staff to determine how many of the state’s furlough days the system will have to take.

“The legislature and governor have approved 10 furlough days,” Dyer said. “Our goal is to save as many school days as we can, even though they’re not sending the funding for them.”