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iPads in schools raise questions about kids' technology usage

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Technology has infiltrated not only children's home lives, but the classroom as well. Hundreds of schools across the nation, including eight in Central Oregon, have implemented iPad test programs that replace traditional textbooks, printed worksheets and study guides with Mac products, creating a classroom where teachers are more likely to ask students to open an app rather than turn to a page in their workbook.

Navigating this quickly developing world can be a challenge for moms and dads, especially as kids' technological savvy surpasses their own at home and in the classroom. Alice DeWittie, principal of Summit High School, where the pilot program has been in motion since last July, said that reaction from parents has been generally positive.

"There are those who struggle with change; struggle with technology and the direction we are headed," said DeWittie. "There are those who can't embrace it enough and think we should move forward even more. Our goal is to prepare students for their future, not our past, to give them the tools to operate with integrity in a digital landscape."

While it's hard to nail down numbers, the revolution in the classroom is wide reaching and schools from Chicago to Los Angeles are adapting to the changing world of learning and teaching. This means parents, as well as students, have to learn to safely and responsibly use the new digital devices. Summit High has taken several initiatives to keep parents up to date on what the iPads are doing in classrooms.

"At the beginning of the year, we had several articles in our newsletter and sent out informational emails. Parents were invited to speak with district folks at our open house in September about their questions and concerns," explained DeWittie. Since then, the school has continued to send along information and guidelines, and monitor what is considered proper usage through parent-teacher meetings.

Luckily, Central Oregon parents have many outlets to learn about online responsibility. Last week, Richard Guerry, the executive director at the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IRoC2), and the author of several cyber safety and citizenship books, presented a lecture at Bend High School called "Public and Permanent: Preventing Sexting, Cyber Bullying and Beyond."

"As the major ISP provider in the area, we feel it's our responsibility to make parents aware of all the threats and educate them about how to keep their kids safe online," said Sonja Donohue, community relations and events manager at BendBroadband, which sponsored the talk. "With kids starting at such an early age using technology, they are more and more prevalent to dangers online and threats, and we feel it takes a lot more education to get parents aware of what kids are doing and how they are doing it."

Donohue's son, a fifth-grader at Buckingham Elementary, was also a part of the iPad pilot program in the Bend-La Pine School District. Donohue said the program has impacted her son's learning positively.

"The school has done a really good job with the monitoring system of what they can and can't load," said Donohue. "He's a great student, but it has really taken him to another level of being engaged and excited about learning."

A study conducted by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found that iPad learning can better help students to grasp difficult concepts, like the magnitude of space and other extremely large or small scientific scales. Moreover, the Obama administration has pledged to provide high-speed Internet connections to 15,000 schools over the next two years, ensuring this continued trend toward online and tablet education.

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