Delavan-Darien School District leaping into one-to-one computing

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, June 10, 2013

— When Darien Elementary School speech pathologist Melinda O’Brien enters a classroom, she sets off a series of excited “pick mes” from students.

Kids know that time with O’Brien means time with her iPad, that device featuring animated and interactive characters who reward knowledge instantly and in color.

No one should tell the students they’re learning because that would spoil the fun.

Next year, the Delavan-Darien School District hopes to create that kind of excitement about learning at all levels with a one-to-one electronic device initiative that will put a laptop or tablet computer in the hands of every student, from pre-school to 12th grade.

It’s the only school district in Walworth County, and only

one of a few in the state, to implement such a plan on such a large scale.

The initial cost, which will include upgrading the district’s wireless Internet, will come to about $1 million. In May, the school board approved low-interest borrowing not to exceed $750,000.

Pre-school through first-grade students will have access to Apple iPad mini tablet computers and laptop computers. Students in second through 12th grades will be assigned Chromebooks, which are notebook computers.

The one-to-one electronic device initiative is one of many steps the district is taking to improve academics. The district has also added minutes to the school day at all levels, redeveloped some of its curriculum in the elementary schools and become a pilot school for a computer software engineering program.

Increasing potential

Teachers and administrators know laptops and tablets won’t end up as expensive tools that don’t generate real, measurable results.

Here’s why they’re so certain: Many teachers are already using the technology in their classrooms and have seen its potential.

“I try to use as much technology as I can,” said Shelly Sullivan, Delavan-Darien High School science teacher.

Employers say they want employees who can work collaboratively and be able to communicate ideas and information with technology, Sullivan said.

So while Sullivan’s students are learning biology, astronomy, geology, meteorology and oceanography, they’re also learning how to put together presentations, share and transform ideas on digital platforms and work together.

It isn’t enough to know how to use programs such as Excel or PowerPoint. By the time students are in the work force, those programs will be replaced by something better.

“Because stuff moves so fast, we’re training students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” Sullivan said.

Despite the notion that all young people are technologically savvy, teachers have found that much depends on students’ economic and social backgrounds.

Sullivan piloted an online class in astronomy this year. Although she was in the lab with students, she encouraged them to communicate electronically.

“Some of them had never used emails before,” Sullivan said.

Stealth learning

The students who Sullivan has talked to are “really excited” about the one-to-one technology initiative.

That kind of excitement is something teachers can use to their advantage. O’Brien said she sees it all the time with her students in Darien.

She’s been using her iPad with her speech and language students for more than a year. Whatever the speech or language issue is, “there’s an app for that,” she said.

Programs are animated and designed around cause-and-effect instant response.

“For kids, it’s, ‘If I do this, then this will happen,’” O’Brien said. “It increases time on task, and there are so many fun things to do that kids don’t realize they’re learning more.”

The device “increases their curiosity” and provides them with plenty of opportunities to succeed, and that’s crucial for early learners, she said.

“When I go into a classroom to get a child, the kids all say, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’” O’Brien said.

Other advantages

The district is still working out the logistics, but eventually students will be able to take devices home with them. The devices will have built-in content filtering systems so even students using them outside of the district will only have access to websites that are available within the district.

The devices will also help the district communicate better with Spanish-speaking families. Teachers and families can send messages in English or Spanish, and those messages can be instantly translated.

Last updated: 7:54 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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