Like its neighbors, the Bourne public school system will be making handheld computer technology available to select number of students for the coming school year. Next month, all fifth graders at the Bourne Middle School will be getting a Nexus 7 tablet.
“It seems to be a good transitional grade to provide them to students,” Superintendent Steven M. Lamarche said of his decision to limit the devices to just the fifth grades.
In addition, iPad 3s will be handed out to a small group of special needs students at the middle school.
The introduction of modern handheld technology to students is following a trend that has also seen iPads going to freshmen and sophomores at Sandwich High and sophomores at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School.
The Bourne school district spent approximately $50,000 purchasing both the iPads ($600 apiece) and the Nexus tablets ($250 apiece), the superintendent said.
That is compared to more than $97,000 spent at UCT and $247,500 in Sandwich.
“Make no mistake, price was a big consideration,” the superintendent said of his decision to choose the less expensive Nexus over Apple’s iPad. He also said that a considerable amount of research was done over the summer, much of it on the Nexus and the capability it provides. In the end, the Google product was felt to be the right device.
He said that wireless Internet was installed at the middle school over the summer, at a cost of $30,000, so the school will not have to buy a service plan for each tablet in order to access the Internet. He said that if the school district can afford it, the plan is to add wi-fi at the high school next year.
The superintendent said that funding for the tablet computers was built into this year’s school budget. He said that there was no re-allocation of funds, as was done both in Sandwich and at Upper Cape Tech, where money that was meant for the purchase of schoolbooks was instead used to buy the iPads.
He said that Apple came through with a 5% discount on the iPads, and Bourne also saved money on the Nexus 7s by purchasing them through the Massachusetts Higher Education Consortium, of which Bourne is a member.
“They gave us the best pricing and best delivery time,” he said.
Providing handheld technology to students is nothing new to Bourne public schools. This past year, the school district conducted a pilot program in which they gave out 50 Samsung Galaxy tablets to students in two fifth grade classes at Bourne Middle School. The superintendent said that all of the students who received a Galaxy tablet bought them at the end of the school year. The year before, 46 fourth grade students at Peebles Elementary School were issued Smartphones as part of a pilot program “to introduce technology to the classroom in order to enhance learning,” Mr. Lamarche said. He said that those phones were not made available for sale to the students, but were returned at the end of the school year.
The superintendent said that students will not be limited to using only the devices provided by the school. He said that if a student has their own device, they will be encouraged to use it in school. “Bring it in and we’ll incorporate it into your learning,” he said.
At this point, there are no plans to expand the program beyond the fifth grade. He said that the goal is to provide them to students in fifth grade, and make them available for purchase at the end of the school year for a nominal fee, less than what the school spent on them. “The vision is that they will have them for the remainder of their education,” he said.
Mr. Lamarche said that while there is a replacement cost students will have to pay in the event that one of the devices is lost or damaged, the administration is not making available any kind of insurance plan. He said that his experience with the earlier programs leads him to believe that there will not be a problem.
“Last year, out of 50, one student Galaxy tablet broke,” he said, noting that the same was true in the Smartphone program.
“Students understand the importance of the device, so it’s a novelty at first, but then it comes through as an important learning tool and that’s what exciting for us,” he said.
Bourne Middle School principal Melissa L. Stafford echoed Mr. Lamarche’s enthusiasm. Ms. Stafford said that while paper and pencil instruction will still be a part of the school day, providing the students with the tablets “teaches them how to use technology in education, and in a way that teaches them some of those skills they don’t already have.”
She said that more than anything, the introduction of new technology is “just plain exciting.”
“Anytime you put something like that in their hands, it increases the level of excitement, and that’s a really exciting opportunity for us,” she said.