Mars embraces technology
Policy lets students use laptops, tablets, smartphones in class
Cranberry Eagle
Written by:
March 11, 2013
Click for larger picture
Joe Donofrio, a senior at Mars High School, reads on his iPad during class Thursday as part of the district’s new Bring Your Own Technology policy.

ADAMS TWP — Thanks to a new district policy, Mars students who bring their iPhone or Android devices to school can carry them right into class instead of leaving them at home or depositing them at the office for the day.

The district’s Bring Your Own Technology policy, which took effect Feb. 25, encourages students to bring their personal computing devices into the classroom to use for educational purposes. Smartphones, electronic tablets like iPads, laptop computers, and digital reading devices like Nook and Kindle readers are all permitted in Mars buildings.

Mars’ assistant superintendent and director of curriculum, Matt Friedman, said Wednesday the devices are being used for educational purposes only, and that the district has installed its own secure network that students use to access the Internet in class.

“Our secure network should put parents’ and teachers’ minds at ease,” Friedman said. “We are controlling and filtering what students and teachers are able to see during the school day.”

Friedman said examples of ways students can use their mobile devices, with teacher permission only, include online research for a project or paper, or reading a book during downtime.

“Obviously, we’re not going to let them sit there and play video games and things of that nature,” he said.

Friedman said most users of the mobile devices are in the high school, middle school and to some degree in the Centennial School, which educates fifth and sixth graders.

Middle school Principal Rich Cornell said the seventh and eighth grade students in his building use their digital reading devices in the school’s Accelerated Reader program, in which students read a book every nine weeks and then take a quiz on the book.

He said they also use their smartphones, laptops and tablets for educational research within a classroom under teacher supervision.

He said students who do not own electronic devices are provided access to the school’s computer lab.

Friedman said district policy #786 regarding student-owned electronic devices was revised to provide updated guidelines for bringing technology to school, and to include the previously prohibited smartphones.

High school Principal Todd Kolson said he is seeing about the same number of students bringing smartphones to school as he did when the office collected the devices before the start of the school day.

“I think the kids are extremely excited (about bringing their smartphones to school,)” Kolson said.

He said the new policy is more in line with the educational times, but must remain structured to avoid becoming a distraction.

“There are a lot of nuisance items on those devices,” Kolson said. “Our staff will be very diligent in ensuring they are only used for educational purposes, and the kids have shown that they are willing to fall in line with that.”

“This is starting to become very commonplace,” Friedman said. “It’s just a different approach to learning, and how do kids today learn? They jump on the computer.”

He said while Mars’ program is voluntary, most schools have instituted the program in the interest of moving toward a school building without a computer lab, in which each student has their own Internet-accessible device whether purchased by the district or through an agreement with parents.