Shrewsbury School Board, Parents Assess iPad Program

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A Shrewsbury student uses her iPad in class at Sherwood Middle School.
A Shrewsbury student uses her iPad in class at Sherwood Middle School. Photo Credit: John Swinconeck (file)

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — Three months after every student at Sherwood Middle School was given access to an iPad, parents, students, and staff are taking stock of how successful the program has been, as well as some of the headaches it's caused.

“We keep hearing from teachers that it's a powerful tool,” said Assistant Superintendent Mary Beth Banios, in comments to the Shrewsbury School Committee during a presentation from Sherwood Middle School teachers and students Tuesday.

Teachers have praised the iPads' ability to help them keep up with how well their students are learning. Students have been using the iPads to learn about math and science, and to share what they've learned with other students.

Teacher and student response to the iPad program has been positive, however, some parents have voiced concerns, and Banios acknowledged the iPad program was a big change for families, as well as parents and students.

More than 530 parents responded to a survey conducted by the school, and about 30 percent of parents said they were worried the iPads were a distraction. About 11 percent were worried the iPads would have a negative impact on handwriting.

Some parents have complained their kids are messaging much more than they used to and many of those messages have nothing to do with school work. Some said games apps were a distraction.

Others said the iPad program was too costly to families, who must either provide their child with an iPad or pay a fee to use an iPad that cannot leave school grounds.

“It's a major, unappreciated distraction,” commented one parent in the survey.

School Committee member John Samia said much of the criticism came from fear of technology that wasn't fully understood.

School Committee Chair Erin Canzano was supportive of the iPads. “It's going to be an incredibly successful program,” she said.

At least one parent was equally optimistic of the program in their survey comments: “Please don't give up on this program. It may be the single most important addition to the school system since the blackboard.”

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Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals. They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later.