LEHMAN TWP. – Teachers became the pranksters Wednesday morning, using new iPads to project images on the screen behind the man who thought he was in control.
Video clips of parachutists, exotic wildlife and a Lexus luxury SUV appeared where examples of classroom lessons should have been.
Lake-Lehman Technology Director Brian Murphy laughed it off each time he turned around to see his digital domain usurped, but the instigators were proving the double-edged nature of the district's newest learning tool: The 350 Apple iPads invading all district schools this fall will give students unprecedented ability to collaborate and demonstrate; they will also give students room for a little wireless mischief.
"The good part is that everybody in your classroom can be a teacher," Murphy said, touting how students will be able to display their work, even as they do it. "The bad part is anybody can take control of the screens."
Anyone holding a pad can wirelessly project what is on his or her own iPad screen. To spur collaboration and interest, the district decided not to protect access with a password. District officials believe the benefits far outweigh any risks.
The district started dabbling in iPads in June 2011, buying three for administrators to test, Murphy said.
The results were unremarkable, but they tried again, putting five more into the hands of teachers and traveling to West Virginia for a meeting with Apple experts. Newly impressed, they bought 30 iPads and used them in two classrooms this spring.
"What we found was that, in the lower-level math groups, test scores went up an average of 65 percent," Superintendent James McGovern said.
The pads also proved successful with special-education students.
"We've seen significant improvements as far as speech classes, learning support, autism, a lot of those hands-on classes," McGovern said. "The iPad really raises the interest level of the students and allows them to really go into more detail in the subject matter."
So now there are 350 of them, most divvied up into carts that hold 30 pads each, recharging them when the pads are in the cart, and wirelessly connecting the pads to the projector when they are in use.
Money for the iPads already had been budgeted for the district's technology leasing program – computers are routinely leased rather than bought because they become outdated quickly.
"We got 200 new laptops for our teachers, and the money that was left over we put toward the iPads," McGovern said.
Wednesday morning's training was voluntary and unpaid, but still drew about 50 teachers. Full training will be held during "in-service" days right before classes begin.
After they got the pranking out of their system, the teachers watched as Murphy showed how the "Apps" work, and how students and teachers could share photos, documents and work through "eBackpack," virtual storage space in an Internet "cloud" rather than on a hard disk, allowing access from any Internet-capable device.
Teachers can hand out assignments, and students can turn in completed work, through the system, each using their own personal virtual backpack. Teachers will have access to student backpacks.
The district controls Internet access, and apps can be downloaded only through the technology department. Students and teachers won't be able to indulge in Angry Birds or watch the World Series.
The iPads do not replace desktop and laptop computers. But the pads, complete with video and still photo abilities, give students and teachers a mobility and versatility not available in the larger machines.
"We're scratching the surface with it," McGovern said, "and we're looking to be a prototype school."