TAMWORTH — Technology devices can pack a lot of fun but educators at School Administrative Unit 13 in Tamworth, Freedom and Madison stress the new KUNO4 Android tablets distributed to students this week are learning tools — not toys.
“This isn’t simply about giving students tablets,” said SAU 13 Superintendent Lou Goscincki. “Lots of school districts hand out laptops, iPads, Chrome books and tablets — but unless those devices are tied to curriculum, educational content, and resources, you haven’t really done much. The tablets we’re deploying are an integral part of a K-12 Cloud environment where teachers push and pull course materials to the devices, so that the students’ tablet is a true learning tool and extension of the classroom.”
“We control the information the kids get through the Cloud,” he said. He notes that these tablets are built specifically for the school market, are heavy duty with durable covers and only a 2 percent breakage rate.
As part of a first in the nation launch of its new multi-district Digital Learning Initiative, all 563 students and teachers in the district received KUNO4 Android tablets to use during various instructional times at school and when at home as determined by their teachers.
The rollout began Tuesday morning at the K.A. Brett School when 285 students in grades kindergarten to eight spent the morning training on their devices with their teachers and specialists from CurriculumLoft in Indianapolis and education consultants with Engaging Solutions. Students and staff at the Freedom Elementary School received tablets and training later in the day on Tuesday, with the rollout at Madison Elementary School planned for this morning.
The teams visited each classroom in all three districts to deliver the devices, show students how they work and how to take care of them. Teachers spent much of the summer training with the devices and preparing lesson plans for their courses. Teachers will use the tablet as one of many teaching tools available to them, and students will not be expected to spend all day looking at a computer screen.
Principal Ken Hawkins of the K.A. Brett School, which teaches kindergarten through grade 8, who had served as the vice principal of York Middle School in Maine before starting in his new post in July, said the technology initiative differs from others in Maine. In York, seventh- and eighth-graders were provided with laptops, but the tablet devices distributed this week are tied directly to the curriculum loaded onto the Cloud.
“Security is a big deal, and one of the nice things about this initiative is we control the information that the kids access. They can’t just go willy-nilly on this so that was a big thing for us,” said Goscinski.
Students will not be able to use the tablets to visit inappropriate Internet sites. According to an informative flyer distributed to parents and media members, the technology used in the device complies with the federal Child Internet Protection Act. The school’s Cloud and KUNO4 tablets have web filters built into their cores preventing students from surfing inappropriate sites.
Students cannot load games on the device, although teachers may choose to provide access to a fun game or application as a reward for good work. Contrary to some, the tablets will not replace books in the near future.
“It’s not replacing any textbooks this year, but we’ll be poised — when textbook manufacturers start to go digital — to use that technology. We will still have textbooks. I’ve heard we’re going to do away with textbooks, and that’s not true,” he said. “As time goes on and manufacturers produce electronic books, we’ll be able to purchase those items and put them on our Cloud,” Goscinski said.
The Digital Learning Initiative was funded by a variety of public grants and private donations, and the school budget. More than $188,000 in grants was committed to the SAU-wide initiative.