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St. Andrew’s School Blazing iPad Tablet Trail in the U.S.

I only know of two K-12 schools that have come close to doing full 1-1 rollouts of iPads to their students. One is the Cedars School of Excellence outside of Glasgow, Scotland, whose 105-student deployment has captured most of the publicity due to the eloquence of its head of IT, Fraser Speirs. The one that gets less publicity is actually much more ambitious in many ways.

Saint Andrews School is a private school in Savannah, Georgia. It has deployed a total of 480 iPads to students, including one to all 440 students in the grades 1-12, and classroom sets for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten (so technically not 1:1, but pretty close).

(Long Island University is actually deploying iPads to 6,000 of its students. Check out this list of other large school and enterprise iPad deployments)

Saint Andrews also gave new iPads and MacBooks to all 90 faculty members, upgraded its aging Windows 2000 servers to ultra-fast quad-core Apple XSERVE servers, and installed a whole new Wi-Fi infrastructure, according to Larry Tremblay, technology director at Saint Andrews.

All of this was accomplished in just 50 days over the summer by Tremblay with the help of a few teachers and student volunteers.

“It was a busy summer,” said Tremblay, modestly. He credits the speed and scale of Saint Andrews’ rollout to the support of its administrators, as well as the fact that the school had frankly been deferring upgrades for several years.

“We had a very poor infrastructure until this summer,” Tremblay said,  citing old desktop PCs and teachers who had been using the same  software since 1995.

Tremblay has an interesting background. An Air Force veteran where he trained on Sperry Unisys mainframes, Tremblay worked in various technology jobs for two decades before getting his master’s degree in English and becoming an English teacher at Saint Andrews, before eventually moving over to IT.

His dual background gives him credibility with Saint Andrews teachers, and also empathy for their concerns. That has reduced resistance from teachers.

So have the benefits the iPad have delivered in the classroom.  Take very young (3-5 years old) children who are just learning to write, but lack the dexterity to hold a pencil.

Using the iPad and its drawing app, Saint Andrews students are “writing with their index finger and developing an  understanding of the letters, numbers and words in the written form and  multicolor as well,” according to Jo Lamas, head of the lower school at Saint Andrews. “It is so simple and attractive that the very  youngest pre-literate child is engaged.”

In the middle school, teachers are using iBooks’ ereader to assign books to students, the eClicker app to post questions to students for in-class pop quizzes, and a map app to teach students about history.

Many of the benefits are less overtly tangible, yet big nevertheless. For instance, Lamas says the iPad is helping teachers prevent the common problem of student boredom.  With any class, it’s difficult to engage a large number of students.  Even with interactive whiteboards, there are at maximum 1-2 students  working with the others watching, said Lamas.

But “with the iPad, the  teacher models the lesson on the (whiteboard), via their  app on their computer and the students can then do the same thing or  extensions on their iPads. Everyone is actively engaged!” Lamas said.  “The students  are moving objects around, sliding letters to form words, or moving  words to form sentences. Whatever the lesson is, every student  participates.”

The iPad also lets teachers move beyond the traditional top-down model of lecture-listen-memorize-test, to a more collaborative style of learning, said Pete Smith, head of the middle school. “You get small groups of kids working together to face challenges and do research together,” he said. This sort of inquiry-based learning just isn’t possible in traditional computer labs filled with desktop PCs, or even with netbooks, he said.

Students download school-related apps from iTunes themselves, paying with vouchers bought by St. Andrews from Apple. That’s kludgy, but Tremblay is looking into running an iTunes server so the school can manage app distribution itself.

Only a few of the iPads had broken within the first three months of school, says Tremblay, and none were stolen. These were all covered under a third-party insurance policy that Saint Andrews purchased.

While not cheap, Tremblay “is certain we’re saving money” rolling out iPads instead of laptops or netbooks. For instance, securing Windows PCs requires annual Active Directory licenses, which run about $50 per PC, he said. That’s $25,000 per year right there, or enough to pay for 50 new iPads per year.

Parents have also been supportive, with some hosting an “wine and app” party to teach other parents how to use the Notes app used by students to organize and keep track of their homework, he said.

Saint Andrews doesn’t directly control what students can download or view on their iPads, Tremblay said. On campus, that is a different story, as the school uses SonicWall firewall software that can detect and block unsuitable apps and content when students are in class.

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