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District 99 expands '1:1' program

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 3:38 p.m. CDT

DOWNERS GROVE – About 1,500 students at Downers Grove North and South High schools will be greeted with new Google Chromebook laptops when District 99 returns to class Monday.

Students will get to keep the devices throughout the school day and take them home as part of the expanded 1:1 pilot program.

“By being able to take the devices home with them, they have anywhere, anytime learning,” South High School Instructional Technology Coordinator Jon Orech said. “Some kids may have their own devices, but this guarantees that they all have them.”

The expanded pilot follows a smaller sample when about 200 students were outfitted with Chromebooks during the 2013-14 school year.

Incoming sophomore Clay Isacson, 15, was one of those pilot students last year. He attested the device completely replaced his textbook for a social studies class where assignments also were largely run through Google Docs, allowing real-time collaboration between students and their teachers on a single editable document.

He said it took an initial growing-pain period before the instructor effectively used the filtering software to block certain games and other online distractions. After that, “it was a productive learning device,” he said.

Students and teachers who participated last year were interviewed at semester’s conclusion, Orech said, to help modify the program for the expanded pilot this year.

“Kids were very much more engaged,” he said. “We were able to do some activities and that previously were inconceivable without kids having their own devices.”

This year’s pilot is expected to cost about $500,000. It follows on the heals of several similar programs in the area, including Grade School District 58’s 1:1 effort. This fall, 3,600 students in the district, from kindergarten through seventh grade, will have iPad minis, following its own pilot programs.

Orech said District 99 chose Chromebooks because of their affordability, and because much of the lessons and activities are run through Google Docs and other Google Apps that come with the notebooks.

But for the program to be successful, “it isn’t just the devices,” he said. “It has to be embraced by the teachers and students to kind of change the learning ecology and learning culture that goes on.”

That environment is fostered when teachers can help guide and encourage students to use the devices to be “empowered” learners, he said, determined to create on their own time as well as in the classroom.

Orech said the district will track student performance in the pilot, and collect anecdotal evidence before deciding whether to expand the devices to all 5,200 students.

“When you consider the price of a textbook, it’s a pretty good return on investment,” he said.

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