Russellville class pilots technology program
Sunday, March 23, 2014
RUSSELLVILLE, Mo. — Students in Kate Lootens’ freshmen language arts class know the drill when they enter the classroom — start on their daily journal entry.
After Christmas break, the sound of shuffling notebook pages was replaced with the soft clacking of Samsung Google Chrome Book keyboards.
The 28 laptops, which store neatly in a wooden case built by ag students, were approved by the school board soon after Lootens submitted her request in December to be a pilot program.
When journaling was complete, Lootens was able to transition smoothly to the poetry lesson.
Without the thuds and chaos that can come from switching textbooks and papers, the students simply opened a new tab on their screens.
Then when time came for independent work, the typeface allowed Lootens to review a student’s work in-progress much easier than some handwritten work.
The pod of Laura Callaway, Colin Walters and Brianna Smith found it was much easier to make corrections or additions to their rough drafts in a file than on a piece of paper.
“I like working on the computer,” Callaway said.
The students also agreed they liked the paperless idea.
“We’re saving the planet by using less trees,” Callaway said. “It would be a lot better if we had this in every class.”
School officials are moving that direction, though these freshmen may graduate before the full scope of a 1:1 student-device ratio is reached.
Middle school students have access to two computer labs and elementary students start keyboarding with Amy Pavely in second grade.
At the high school, computer application classes include the full suite of Microsoft Office, Desktop Publications and an introduction to Google Docs and Multimedia.
“Our long-term goal is to move to a 1:1 initiative, where each student would have their ovwn device,” said business teacher David Coulston.
Using REAP Grant funds, the district may purchase a couple of electronic notebook carts, allowing middle school classrooms mobile access.
“This will help our teachers learn to use them in the classrooms prior to purchasing them for every student,” said Superintendent Jerry Hobbs.
Language arts was a good place to start, with so many writing assignments.
More than that, Lootens has been looking for replacement textbooks without success. She had resorted to creating her own chapters, printed out on copy paper for each student.
Through the specialized sites Lootens has used to set up student accounts, they will be able to access a lesson’s text on their screens or view related links on the Web.
The technology has even more benefits, like keeping students engaged or adjusting reading texts to a successful level for individual students.
But the classes are not lost to cyberspace.
Lootens’ humor and youthful energy provide direction and draw out class discussion and participation.
What has been an adjustment is the steep learning curve for the students, Lootens noted.
This generation can text with their thumbs and log-in to social media sites. But she was surprised how unfamiliar they were with an actual computer and keyboard.
“I feel like I shouldn’t be better at using a computer than my students,” she laughed.
The digital files also will make it easier for teachers to grade homework. Even better, Lootens said she will be able to look at students’ work in progress to offer real-time feedback and catch major troubles before the assignment is turned in.
That presents more of a time pressure on the teacher’s part. But Lootens welcomes the change, which should free up hours of grading on nights and weekends, she said.
She is still discovering and researching what sites and programs are reliable and useful.
Having had her homework stolen from her locker in the past, Smith said she also likes the idea that her work is stored digitally, but could be accessed at anytime.
“And, it will be easier on our backs,” Smith noted.
The end goal is entering the workforce or advancing to college will be easier, too.
“We’ll learn computer stuff for on the job,” Walters said.
Smith agreed, “We’re the generation who will have to deal with technology; there will be more complicated things in the future.
“This is helping us get a grasp on the future.”
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