Schools boost use of classroom technology

Electronic tools will help kids excel on new state tests, in global marketplace.

Laptops, iPads and interactive white boards are replacing overhead projectors, textbooks and chalkboards in local classrooms as teachers try to better prepare students for the global marketplace, as well as for the impending Common Core State Standards.

According to a report released in July, K-12 education in the U.S. ranked 31st out of 141 countries in the 2012 Global Innovation Index. The report, published by the European-based international business school Insead, relates to innovation, research and technology output.

This school year, many local districts are ramping up their use of electronic devices and online access to make their students more competitive in the world and on state tests.

“Common Core is a whole different approach to teaching,” said Jeness Sigman, director of technology for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools. “Kids are going to be asked to analyze data, not to remember the capital of Alaska. Why have kids memorize things when they can easily look them up?”

Ohio public school districts must adopt this more critical-thinking based curriculum by the 2014-15 school year, when the state will test students — online — on that material.

With this deadline and medium in mind, area districts are hustling to adopt technological devices and programs; most within increasing financial constraints.

“We don’t have a technology budget, per se,” said Patty McNerney, Huber Heights City Schools’ technology director. “We have about $10,000 and are very proactive. Most of what we’ve brought in has been through grant monies and Title I funds.”

Northmont City Schools saved up for three years to launch its iPad pilot program, which will provide the tablets for more than a quarter of Northmont High School freshmen for use at school and home this year.

“Students should be more engaged in using technology in academics all day long,” said Debbie Baker, Northmont’s director of curriculum, instruction and technology. “That’s where our program is different than many other schools – we want to give kids the freedom to download their own apps and music, but they have to keep our apps on there, too.”

Baker said the district purchased 132 iPads at a discounted $450 each, paying $59,400. She said they didn’t have the funds to buy tablets for the whole freshman class, which is between 400 and 500 kids.

At Bellbrook this year, each middle school classroom will have seven laptops for student use and one for the teacher. The cost, roughly $140,000, was just shy of the district’s technology budget for the year.

In Centerville, the district has increased its Netbook inventory and this year replaced its collection of 18-year-old, 27-inch televisions with 150 large-screen TVs for the district’s six elementary schools. The TVs cost $150,000. The district saved for a few years to pay for this project, and has TVs for the middle schools on the horizon.

Roger Nefzer, Centerville’s director of technology, said teachers can attach a computer to the wall-mounted TV to use as a projector, or put an interactive overlay on the screen. This makes the TV similar to an interactive whiteboard called a Smart Board, which is widely used at multiple districts.

“Students can interact with that computer and whole class can see it,” Nefzer said. “We’ve found this technology to be more cost-effective. Lamps in the projectors often needed changing, and each lamp costs $200 to $300.”

Nefzer said Centerville also is among many districts considering the free Bring Your Own Device program, which is in its fourth year at Van Buren Middle School in Kettering.

The program, which will be expanded within Kettering City Schools this year, allows students to bring in their iPod, tablet, Smart phone, etc., to access filtered digital content to help them with their studies.

“At Van Buren, you have 340 students bringing devices into the classrooms and using those to assist in whatever the teacher wants them to do,” said Debbie LeValley, Kettering’s director of technology services. “They have to go through a course to learn the rules and then earn a digital driver’s license. If they violate the rules, they lose their license.”

Springboro and Huber Heights are among the districts adding BYOD programs to their technology offerings.

“We also have Nooks and can get classic novels for free through Barnes and Noble, and the kids don’t have to read the same book at the same time,” said Amy Romes, the educational technologist at Springboro City Schools. “They also have Spellcheck and pronunciation help for those readers.”

In Bellbrook, eighth-graders also will access their social studies textbooks online this year. Sigman said it is cheaper to buy online versions, and those textbooks can be updated as needed.

“Also, online, it’s not just a picture of a map in a textbook; it will have animation in it,” she said. “The kids will see the Lewis and Clark Trail in an interactive mode.”

Districts also are expanding their networks to allow students and staff greater accessibility to online information, with filters in place for students’ protection.

Some offer wireless public campuses, while others are tweaking what access is allowed and by whom.

“Prior to this summer, all of our wireless networks were private,” Nefzer said of Centerville. “This year, we installed a public network at our middle schools. We hope next year to move on to the high school with our staff members.”

Also for 2012-13, Kettering and Bellbrook are joining a handful of other districts that have set up email accounts for students. The accounts restrict communication to within the district, with some limited to student-to-teacher communication and others that allow student-to-student.

“It’s good for the kids, and it’s a great tool for teachers,” LeValley said.

McNerney added that Huber Heights is among those utilizing Google Cloud technology, which allows teachers and students to collaborate on live documents while at separate locations.

“Teachers can assign homework, and students can participate in class from home,” she said.

Sigman said she envisions the next five years as becoming a greener, paperless school environment.

“I see each kid carrying their own device,” she said. “A full backpack will be a thing of the past.”

Officials at local districts said these technological updates and the changes they bring can be daunting for teachers, students and families, but they are necessary to a 21st-century education.

“Globally, the kids are going to have to have these tools and skills or they will be so far behind in the work force and in college,” Romes said. “It’s a shift in thinking, but this is the day and age these kids are growing up with.”

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