A year after starting a pilot program with iPads in Greenwood schools, students are moving on to something new: laptops.
Greenwood purchased 300 laptops for about $500 each that the seventh-graders at the middle school are using in all of their classes. The eighth-graders will use them in their science courses, director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said. The middle school students don’t get to take the devices home — teachers and administrators believe the computers will last longer that way — and they likely won’t use them every day.
The new devices are part of an ongoing pilot program to find the most affordable and practical way to use computers or tablets in the classroom. Greenwood started the pilot program last school year and purchased laptops and iPads for 109 students at the middle school and Greenwood Community High School to use in class and at home. At the end of last school year, school officials surveyed students and teachers.
They said using the devices regularly would help prepare students for college and their careers, but the iPads had problems connecting to the Internet and weren’t easy to type on.
This year, more than 650 of Greenwood’s 3,800 students will use either laptops or their own devices in some or all of their classes. School officials want to know more about what devices make the most sense to use in class, where students typically need to be able to type and quickly get on the Internet. But they also want to know more about how often the teachers at different grade levels are using the devices in class.
Recently local school districts, including Center Grove and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools, started purchasing iPads for all of their high school students to use in class and at home. But while laptops and tablets can help Greenwood students with research-based assignments, they’re probably not going to use them all day, every day, Ahlgrim said.
And so it may not make sense for Greenwood to buy a device for every student, he said.
“The pilot is really a working study. This is absolutely research for us. And we’re asking ourselves questions like, does this improve student learning? What is the best classroom configuration to facilitate student achievement? And what exactly is the role of technology?” Ahlgrim said.
Last spring school officials asked the teachers at the middle school if any of them were interested in participating in the pilot during its second year, and the seventh-grade teachers volunteered. They wanted to create research-based lessons that would help students develop investigative skills earlier, and 300 laptops linked to the Internet could make that possible, Ahlgrim said.
But the students aren’t going to use the devices every day — at least not now.
Teachers Jordan Garrison and Mariah Sirkin have started using the laptops with their language arts and science courses a few days a week. Both teachers want their students to learn how to use search engines to find resources for reading assignments and science experiments, they said.
Eighth-grade science teachers Evan Camp and Josiah Osterfeld were both part of Greenwood’s pilot last school year, and this year the two teachers periodically combine their classrooms and create stations for students, Ahlgrim said. Some of the students used laptops to research lessons online, others discussed science laws and theories with Osterfeld, and others worked with Camp on small-group activities.
The students were being taught in different ways that their teachers believed were the most effective for them. Some were using the laptops, but others were not, and that’s important to remember, Ahlgrim said.
“Our instruction, and the way people, including students, seem to like to work, is doing some of this and some of that and some of the other. Switching up between models. Even kids don’t want to be plugged in all the time,” he said.
At the high school, Spanish teacher Jorge Garcia traded the iPads he was using with his Spanish IV students last year and instead is letting students bring their own devices to class this year. He’s also switched to laptops with his Spanish III students, and so far they’re having an easier time writing assignments and logging online than students did last year with iPads, he said.
At the end of the school year, Greenwood will again review with the teachers what parts of the pilot worked, which didn’t and what school officials should plan to do next school year. While that might mean purchasing more devices, it doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing one device for every student, Ahlgrim said.
If the seventh-grade teachers find out that they’re using the laptops with half or one-third of their students at a time, or if Garcia and other high school teachers find that enough students can bring their own devices, then Greenwood doesn’t have to spend $500 per student for the 2,000-plus students at the middle and high schools, Ahlgrim said.
“We are not doing this as a one-tone pilot. We are doing this as a blended learning, learning differentiation pilot,” Ahlgrim said. “And we need as much technology as will provide leverage to a teacher.”