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iPads preferred to books at GFW

District issued iPads to students a year ago

March 2, 2011
By Fritz Busch Staff Writer

WINTHROP - Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) High School hosted an Apple Leadership Institute Tuesday, giving dozens of Minnesota school officials insight on how technology changed learning since the school district bought 320 iPads last spring.

Last spring, the school district began rolling out $479 Apple iPads - wireless, touch screen, tablet-sized computers that allow students to learn without textbooks, play a piano and learn Spanish among other things.

Tuesday's discussions involved Apple executives from across the Upper Midwest, school superintendents, principals, curriculum and technology directors from around the state as well as GFW high school students.

According to Apple, research showed that students with routine access to laptop computers score higher in written assignments, demonstrate better analytical skills, do more problem solving and collaborate more effectively on schoolwork, which leads to higher student achievement.

Most students tended to agree, according to survey results.

GFW High School students said iPads were most useful for three or four classes including science, English and calculus courses.

More than 85 percent of students said they do their homework on their iPads.

Most students said their organizational skills improved with iPads.

Tyler Arndt of Fairfax said he prefers using a laptop computer for some classes but realizes value in using laptops and iPads.

"Some students seem to spend lots of time out of school on social networks with their iPads," Arndt said.

Mason Bleick of Fairfax said he enjoyed using an iPad on science, English and calculus.

"It's easy to cheat with iPads," Bleick added.

Jeff Bertrang, GFW High School Principal, said some students will find a way to cheat with or without iPads but that with proper instructional supervision, cheating can be detected.

Bertrang said since last fall, school staff spent two afternoons a month sharing iPad ideas, three afternoons training and four afternoons with Apple executives leading staff development.

"Teachers help one another with it at staff development. We talk about what works and what doesn't," Bertrang added.

Lessons learned included not allowing YouTube to be used on iPads in school.

"I got calls from angry parents when we first got them," Bertrang said.

"They have come to realize that we can't control what students do with them outside school, but we have a list of appropriate, allowable application downloads,," he said.

Bertrang said Java applications and state testing does not now work on iPads.

"They don't do everything," he added.

Bertrang said one teacher was afraid to use iPads at first but learned that they improved research ability, enabled students to be more organized and simplified finding data. The iPads also allowed students to interact more with teachers via e-mail.

He added that the school district is saving money on paper and will save more money by updating iPads and buying fewer textbooks over time.

So far, Bertrang said no iPads were broken; however, a couple students left school and did not return them.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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