Advancing Technology in the Classroom

Computer screens continue to replace paper, a keyboard replaces pencils, and Google Docs replace a teacher’s inbox as technology continues asserting its place in the classroom. The dream that a computer or tablet could be made available to every child in the Valparaiso Community Schools is no longer a dream but rather a near reality, thanks to a recent grant from the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission.

The whole idea is to foster 21st century skills,” said Bill Moran, Technology Director at Ben Franklin Middle School. “Our goal is to become more mobile, provide more flexibility, not waste time taking students to the lab and back.” Chrome Books and iPads were purchased with the money, in an effort to see which interface works best for teaching purposes, before a widespread investment is made to outfit every student with their own.

The Chrome Books specifically speak to [being mobile] because this is cloud computing at its best. And this gives the students an opportunity of what they should be working with if they were employed today at a company.”

I shared a Google Doc with you over the weekend, so check your drive,” stated 6th grade Ben Franklin Language Arts teacher Jeanne Sienkowski, addressing her class on a Monday morning. Excited chatter fills the room as each student pops open their Chrome Book and logs into their individual account. Each screen soon shows the same document and as each student types their responses to the questions on the document, they instantly see the answers of their classmates as well.

The collaboration part is so real world for them,” Sienkowski said. “It is powerful to be able to access accounts and use the cloud.”

This is all part of an effort to investigate what we should be using as a one-to-one device, what change of instruction is needed, what type of infrastructure to implement,” Moran said. The iPads are well utilized when taking quizzes or asking students to immediately provide feedback, such as drawing what they see after hearing a story, but the devices have their limitations. The Chrome Books cover those limitations but offer their own as well, a big one being the current inability to handle ISTEP testing.

As technology continues to evolve, these limitations will be less and less, so the schools must decide what is the best device to implement that will currently serve the students well, in addition to the future. For Sienkowski, the Chrome Books have made a positive impression on her and her students.

They are easy to use, turn on fast, offer the ability to go paperless,” she said. “Plus you can close the covers and open them back up to the exact place you left off- which limits student distraction.”

The Chrome Books are pretty fun, we get to do a lot of fun things, make presentations,” shared Ben Franklin 6th grade student Oliva Dres.

We have our own special file that no one else can see or change,” stated fellow peer Emma Rutkowski.

This has been a valuable grant for us,” stated Moran, sharing how state budget cuts have significantly tightened the budget in the schools. “This gets the devices in the student hands. We feel so fortunate to receive this.”

This is the start of the pilot,” said VCS Technology Trainer Olga Granat. “By next fall, we’re looking to implement Google accounts for all of the students. So even if they don’t have Chrome Books, they can still take advantage of the Google environment as far as being able to collaborate and use that on any device.”