SD 230 students moving beyond the computer lab
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org February 2, 2014 8:32PM
Sandburg High School juniors Chris Beck, left, and Noah Grudowski work with iPad tablet computers in their honors Spanish class. They are part of a pilot technology program Consolidated High School District 230 launched at the start of the school year. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 4, 2014 6:02AM
Desi Vuillaume moves silently around his quiet classroom at Sandburg High School in Orland Park, stopping occasionally at a student’s desk to answer a question.
His psychology students are on a Web quest, studiously poring over information online for an assignment for which they’ll never touch a pen, pencil or piece of paper. They’re part of a pilot program in Consolidated High School District 230 aimed at bringing the latest technology into the classroom.
At the start of the school year, about 3,000 students, out of a total student population of 8,700 in the district, ditched textbooks for more than 700 iPad and Chromebook tablet computers. The district’s goal is to ultimately have every student working on them, said John Connolly, the district’s director of information technology services.
The pilot program will be expanded next school year, but it’s uncertain at this point how many classrooms will get the computers, he said.
“It’s transforming classrooms,” he said of the technology. “It’s taking teaching to a new level.”
Vuillaume said his students have “grown up in a digital environment” and that the Chromebook tablets are allowing him to more quickly get information to them as well as gauge their performance. For their Web quest, students got a digital worksheet to guide their journey, and they were to file their completed work digitally as well.
“It eliminates a lot of paper waste,” Vuillaume said, noting he’s saved about 3,000 pages of paper just by having students take exams on the tablets.
About 40 teachers at the district’s three schools — Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg — signed up to be part of the initial program, and the district will soon start taking applications from faculty as it ramps up to offer the tablets in more classes next year, Connolly said. Teachers had to make a case for how they planned to implement the computers in their classes, he said.
Vuillaume said the tablets are a valuable teaching tool and “we have to make sure we are using the devices to the fullest, but not letting the device be the teacher.”
In Mike Erdman’s honors Spanish class at Sandburg, students are using iPads to listen to podcasts in Spanish, and Google Drive to work in groups, share classroom assignments and edit other classmates’ work.
To keep students posted on assignments, he uses Schoology, a social network designed for schools, that Erdman updates daily.
If a student did make a mental note of a homework assignment, for instance, he or she can easily check at Schoology, and it’s handy for a student who is sick or otherwise absent and needs to check on what he missed in class, Erdman said.
The technology the district has deployed “actively engages the kids” and allows for better collaboration on group assignments, he said.
Connolly said district officials realized they needed to move beyond the schools’ computer labs and bring into the classrooms the technology students grew up using. The district, rather than settling on one type of tablet, decided to use the mix of iPads and Chromebooks, he said.
Including infrastructure, equipment and training costs, District 230 has so far spent about $500,000 on the technology initiative, Connolly said.
The pilot program will be evaluated at the end of the year to assess the impact on student performance, although Connolly said that “you need a solid three years to see any drastic changes” in achievement levels.
While a timetable isn’t set, he said the district’s goal is to have all students using computers at their desks and let them connect to the schools’ cloud-based systems using their own smartphones, tablets or laptops. The students involved in the pilot program have to leave the tablets in the classroom, but once they’re distributed to all students, they would be able to take them home at the end of the school day, Connolly said.