Saturday, December 20, 2014

OHS eyes ease for students with tablet buy

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 3/26/2014

The way Ottawa High School students learn is about to change.

The Ottawa school board voted 7-0 Monday night to implement a 1:1 initiative that would put Chromebooks in the hands of every student at the high school.

The way Ottawa High School students learn is about to change.

The Ottawa school board voted 7-0 Monday night to implement a 1:1 initiative that would put Chromebooks in the hands of every student at the high school.

The initiative has been two years in the making, Ryan Cobbs, high school principal, said, with much research put into finding the best technology fit.

“We started a pilot program last year with iPads in the Algebra 2 and Geometry classes,” Cobbs said. “Everything was done digitally, and we tried to determine issues with our network, issues with certain types of devices and how we can really change the type of instruction we provide for our kids. We learned a great deal from the pilot program and made changes in what we were doing.”

After learning that the iPads weren’t as easy to use, a different device was given to just teachers for this school year, Cobbs said, to see if and how the teachers thought they worked with their curriculum.

“This year, we purchased a number of Windows devices to put in the hands of teachers with the understanding they could begin manipulating their curriculum to be in a more digital format,” he said. “We found out with tablets, they didn’t meet our needs either and we needed something with a little more durability, a keyboard, a device that had access to Windows operations, but didn’t have to be a Windows device and something that was fairly easy for kids to utilize, which tablets are not.”

Input and feedback from teachers and students helped decide that Chromebooks offered the most bang for the buck and could easily meet most — but not all — of the needs at the high school, Cobbs said.

The district plans to purchase 765 Chromebooks from Toshiba, Cobbs said, with a price tag of just more than $202,000, though the total cost will be much less.

“The actual real cost to the district is not $202,000,” he said. “This year we were going to have to replace 240 some odd desktops throughout the school to equate to about $130,000 to $140,000. The actual cost is not nearly $202,000. It’s going to be less than that [because funds will not have to be spent purchasing replacement desktop computers].”

In a world where so much is technology-driven, Cobbs said, this initiative takes college- and career-readiness to a new level.

“If part of what we’re doing is to improve 21st century skills, and everything that happens in today’s marketplace is based upon technology, then our kids have to be able to understand and utilize technology and communicate and learn via technology,” he said. “We want to really open up opportunities for students to learn in a 21st century environment and break down barriers of the eight-hour classroom because students will have access to education 24 hours a day.”

The Chromebooks are an exciting way to change how students will be able to learn and the way teachers will be able to give instruction, Jeanne Stroh, Ottawa superintendent, said.

“It’s a whole different way of going about writing when you do it on an electronic device,” Stroh said. “You have the source at your fingertips and grammar and spelling — everything is right there, so learning is increased at a very rapid rate and you have tools that you can use in terms of research.”

Sick days and snow days could one day be obsolete, Stroh said, as the devices allow teachers to directly send school information to a student’s device that would allow them to access that information in a time that works for them.

“Talking about snow days or if a student is sick or whatever the reason is they need to be gone, then the teacher can send that information, and the students can access the information for that class in a timely manner and take part in an actual class rather than like in the old days, having a packet of information you have to read,” she said. “The difference between doing things on paper and on a device, you can see what a paradigm change that is in terms of teaching and learning.”

The 1:1 initiative will begin at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, Cobbs said, and Chromebooks will start being handed out to high school students at the time of enrollment.

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