Grant to equip Weston students with technology

The iPads will go to all sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students and one class of fifth-graders.

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WESTON -- Students at Weston Middle School will get to use iPad tablet computers next year through a technology grant secured from the Oregon Department of Education.

The school was recently awarded $210,665 through the 21st Century Technology-Rich Learning and Teaching subgrant program. Schools that receive grants commit to showing that technology can have positive changes and improved academic results among students.

About $9 million in state awards was sought by 38 applicants, with 13 schools being awarded grants, according to a news release. Athena-Weston School District Superintendent Jerry Copeland said he believes his district is the only one in Eastern Oregon to secure one of the awards.

This round of awards also marks the last year of the federal grant.

With the grant money, five Weston Middle School teachers will buy about 150 iPads for students to use in the classroom. The goal is to increase the number of students meeting Oregon state writing benchmarks by 10 percent a year; and increase the technological literacy of teachers and students.

Per the grant application, 35 percent of the award must be reserved for professional development.

The grant was written by Weston Middle School teachers Ann Vescio and Gail Turner, and Joe Buglione, instructional technology specialist with the InterMountain ESD. The Athena-Weston School Board is expected to approve acceptance of the grant during its monthly meeting tonight.

The iPads will go to all sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students at the school, as well as one class of fifth-graders, Turner said. Weston Middle School is a fourth-through-eighth-grade school.

Turner, a language arts teacher at the middle school, said the students will get to take the tablet computers home, but computers will be synced in classrooms each day to make sure work is being done, and to restore the tablets to school-based applications and programs.

Turner said the school is excited about the award and putting the program to work in the fall.

"We can hardly stand it," she said. "We feel so lucky and blessed. The competition was quite stiff."

Turner said the iPads will be used to improve writing by encouraging students to self-publish in secure online blogs, like Edmodo.com, as part of classroom lessons. Students will also use Google docs, which can be accessed on any computer with Internet access, which the iPads offer wherever a Wi-Fi connection is available. Programs like Google docs will also allow students to collaborate and work together without necessarily sitting next to each other on a project.

"By putting it out there, they tend to care more about their writing. And that's what we want them to do," Turner said.

The tablets will mainly be used in language arts classes, but Turner said they will also be used as part of science lessons.

Turner said the iPads aren't meant to replace research books, or work done in the school's computer labs. But the devices do allow students more freedom and time to conduct such work, rather than having to go to a library or wait for a free computer in a lab.

"Now these things can be done on the fly," she said. "At any time, they will have access to this technology. That's one of the reasons that they will go home. Not on day one, but they will go home."

Since the iPads won't be in place until the new school year starts in the fall, details of the program are still being worked out. Turner said there will likely be contracts drawn up with parents, and some discussion around insurance coverage.

Copeland said there may also be some discussion around access to the Internet from the iPads, but noted that many students already have Internet-ready phones in middle school, or else have personal computers at home for personal use.

The real excitement is on seeing what students are able to achieve to improve their writing and learning overall, Turner said.

"For the most part, the opportunities are endless," she said.

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