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Published: Monday, 9/9/2013

BOARD OF EDUCATION

Sylvania immersing in laptop-based learning

'Digital Learning Initiative' will see 1,600 Chromebooks distributed this year

BY NATALIE TRUSSO CAFARELLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cheryl O’Shea, director of technology for Sylvania schools and Adam Fineske, executive director of curriculum and instruction told members of the Board of Education about a three to five year roll-out plan to have every child and teacher go digital, using the Google-based Chromebook laptop.  Cheryl O’Shea, director of technology for Sylvania schools and Adam Fineske, executive director of curriculum and instruction told members of the Board of Education about a three to five year roll-out plan to have every child and teacher go digital, using the Google-based Chromebook laptop.
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Using pen and paper in Sylvania school rooms may soon be a thing of the past as the administration begins a laptop based Digital Learning Initiative.

Sylvania School District students will get plugged into the virtual cloud via Google-based Chromebooks, laptop computers that weight less than three pounds. About 1,600 Chromebooks will be distributed this year to third to twelfth graders, said Cheryl O’Shea, director of technology for Sylvania schools.

She and Adam Fineske, executive director of curriculum and instruction, met with the board of education today to explain a three to five year plan in which every child and teacher goes digital.

The digital initiative is part of a district emphasis to ensure students are prepared in a changing world that thrives on the Internet and Web-based technology, Mrs. O’Shea said. Kids are learning differently today, compared to when they had a textbook in their hand, the two explained. 

In the first year, $600,000 will be spent on the computers, which cost $279 each, charging stations or carts, which can be rolled from classroom to classroom, and teacher development. The money will cover about 20 percent of the total district need, she said.

Currently the school has about 7,800 students enrolled. Each year they plan to purchase another installment of Chromebooks, she said. The hardware will be kept at school, and until one is purchased for each student, they will be shared among different classes. 

Mrs. O’Shea said the cost of one lightweight Chromebook, which connects to the Internet in less than seven seconds, is about half the cost of a personal computer. Funds used to purchase the computers will be redistributed from the PC replacement budget to fund the initiative, she said.

She and Mr. Fineske have been researching, and testing the functionality of the technology for more than a year. Part of the testing included using two McCord Junior High School classrooms as pilots.

Social studies teacher Dave Budas told board members that using the laptop in his classroom, which has access to online Google Docs where information can be viewed and shared in real time, shifted the focus off of him, and back on the student.

“I can have three different class levels working on one instruction, and their progress can be viewed across my screen,” he said about students writing assignments directly into Google Docs.

He also received immediate feedback on how well students comprehend instruction. He explained that when he gave an assignment to research and explain the structure of the Roman government, students began to write about the physical attributes of an ancient Roman building that housed government.

“I was able to modify my directions [immediately] instead of waiting for the homework to be turned into me on paper, which could take a day or so,” he said.

English teacher Alex Clarkson used the digital instruction is his classroom to track common grammar errors. He used the data to create a mini-lessons on YouTube, individualized to teach students how to overcome those common mistakes.

“The students can plug in, and listen to me,” he said. “I can now multiply myself.”

Mr. Fineske explained that students will no longer need books, paper, or pencils, as everything can be accessed from the Internet.

Board member Jim Nusbaum questioned how teachers would adapt to the new technology, citing the gap in knowledge when smart boards were rolled out.

Mr. Fineske and Mrs. O’Shea said Mr. Clarkson and Mr. Budas would be enlisted to assist in the development aspect of the project. The administration also has plans for short-term and long-term teacher development courses focused on how to use the Chromebook as an instructional tool.

Mr. Fineske and Mrs. O’Shea are still working with teachers and students at the kindergarten to second grade level to ensure they have a “developmentally appropriate” device for digital instruction. Those grades are still in the pilot stage.

Board members were also told that the Academic Excellence Foundation, a non-profit group that awards students and teachers for their achievements, was embarking on fund-raising efforts to cover a portion of the cost. The administration said they would also seek financial support from other parent-run organizations.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or ntrusso@theblade.com



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