One Greenwood teacher is ready for a decision about how students will use computers and the Internet in their classrooms.
Jorge Garcia was one of four Greenwood Community High School teachers who participated in a pilot program last school year. His job was to see what would happen if the 14 students in his Spanish IV were given iPads.
He quickly found his students were distracted by the tablets, which didn’t connect easily to the Internet. And they had no external keyboards, which meant they didn’t work well with writing assignments.
This year, Greenwood’s pilot program has expanded, and Garcia started using new devices with more of his students. About 28 sophomores and juniors in his Spanish III classes are using laptops, and 24 of Garcia’s Spanish IV students bring their own laptops and tablets from home.
Greenwood is still in the first weeks of the school year, but the switch seems to be working. Laptops are easier to use for writing assignments and getting online. And Garcia has been working with the juniors and seniors in Spanish IV to see what devices work well in the classroom and which are too much trouble.
Smartphones already have been ruled out as too small, he said.
Garcia said his hope is that by the end of the school year, officials decide whether to purchase a specific device for some or all of the roughly 3,800 students or allow students to bring their own devices to class. School officials have slowly brought devices into school, using iPads, laptops and other devices in more schools and classes and then surveying teachers about the results. But technology is changing so fast that the school district will have to decide on a technology policy for all of its students, he said.
“What we want to do is say, ‘OK guys, this is what we’re doing. This is how this will make you a better teacher. This is how it will help your students. This is what they’re doing at college,’” Garcia said.
When Garcia started using iPads with his students a year ago, he gave them daily assignments. But students had to manually log on to the Internet every time they used the devices, and sometimes they were knocked off in the middle of completing a task. The class could easily spend half a day working through technical problems instead of Spanish lessons, and as the year went on, seniors in Garcia’s class started forgetting to charge the iPads or bring them to class.
Now Garcia gives his students a week’s worth of materials at a time. The laptops connect quicker to Greenwood’s Internet network, which still blocks inappropriate websites but doesn’t require students to log on as frequently as the iPads. And if one of his online assignments isn’t working, students can simply move on to the next, he said.
“It’s teaching them time management skills. These are the deadlines for these things. You decide what you’re going to work on while you’re here,” he said.
Garcia’s Spanish III students can take their laptops home, and he has created reading assignments and online videos for them to read and watch outside of class. The next time the class meets, he briefly assesses the students to see who understood the assignment and who needs help or didn’t complete their work. Then he splits the class into groups to write reflections about what they were taught or work with him to review what they don’t understand.
With his Spanish IV students, the students use their own devices. And as those students complete their assignments, Garcia tracks how well their devices work in his class.
From that, he has learned that whether Greenwood officials decide to buy devices for students or let students bring their own to class, the school district is going to have to set screen size and data standards, Garcia said. Some screens are too small for students to watch online videos or load documents easily, such as with smartphones, which he already banned in his class. And the devices need to have enough memory and processing speeds so that students don’t have to wait 10 minutes for their assignments to load, he said.