Wednesday, August 28, 2013


By Rob Kuznia, The Daily Breeze |

Third grade teacher Tiffany DeCoursey helps steer students in the right direction. Cimarron Elementary School in Hawthorne where all students received iPads to use in the classroom. First day of instruction with them in the LAUSD school. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

Queron Bailey, 3rd grade, writes his first sentence on the iPad at Cimarron Elementary School in Hawthorne, where all students received iPads to use in the classroom. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

8/27/13, 7:41 PM PDT |  ::  When third-graders at Cimarron Avenue Elementary School in Hawthorne walked into their classroom Tuesday morning, they saw a cart of iPads.

But Omar Mario Del Cueto, director of change management for the Los Angeles Unified School District, saw something akin to the first Model T rolling off the assembly line.

“This is our game-changer,” he said, referring not to LAUSD so much as to the entire field of education.

Tuesday marked the launch of an ambitious plan by the nation’s second-largest school district to equip all 720,000 students with an iPad by next fall.

In a sense it was the first trickle of the first wave of an approaching tsunami. The rollout was a ceremonial media event including just two schools, the other one being Broadacres Elementary in Carson.

In the coming weeks, 43 more schools will get their devices, culminating the project’s first $30 million phase.

Del Cueto estimates that the entire project will cost the district in excess of $500 million. That amounts to about 7 percent of the district’s entire $7.3 billion general-fund budget. The money for the iPads is drawn from a separate pot of voter-approved bond funds.

Del Cueto firmly believes it is worth every penny.

He says that, unlike laptops, which had their own heyday in recent years, the tablet computer — and in particular the iPad — is the perfect tool to prepare the district for Common Core, a national set of standards that prioritizes critical thinking and real-world relevance over memorization and lecturing.

“Here’s what’s new: All the knowledge of the human race is now at kids’ fingertips,” he said. “The new skills are going to be searching for information, making sure the information is from a credible and reliable source ... and organizing that information to create something and communicate it.”

Del Cueto envisages a future where a student’s entire portfolio from their K-12 career is contained in the portable device assigned to them, or in the digital cloud on which their assignments are stored.

Tiffany DeCoursey, the teacher of the third-grade class where Tuesday’s media event took place, shares Del Cueto’s enthusiasm.

“Look at their faces; they are so engaged,” she said of her students, as they worked on their first iPad assignment. “I think this is going to be the bridge way for a lot of children who we thought had so many deficits, but perhaps this is the type of tool that particular learner needs.”

The plan thus far seems to have few outspoken opponents other than Microsoft, whose public proposal for the contract lost out to Apple’s. In June, it was approved in a 6-0 vote of the LAUSD school board. At the time, the teachers union voiced moderate concern, unsuccessfully urging the board to delay the vote. A spokesperson with United Teachers Los Angeles couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

As for the students at Cimarron, they will soon begin using their iPads in the same way students have always used books. This means they will be able to take them home.

Del Cueto believes it is difficult to overstate the historical significance of the iPad plan. In conveying it, he invokes a hypothetical. Pretend John Dewey — the 19th century philosopher widely considered the father of modern education — was able to time travel to the modern era and get a tour.

“If you took Dewey to the airport and say this is how we get around, he would be blown away,” he said. “If you took him into a standard high school classroom today ... it would be so familiar.”

The iPad, he claims, is the beginning of a new age that will truly change classrooms as we’ve known them for 100 years.

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