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12/16/2013 7:48:00 PM
Unlocking creativity with technology in Howard County
FUTURISTIC: Junior Nicholas Simmons uses his iPad during his French class at Northwestern High School. Staff photo by Kelly Lafferty
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FUTURISTIC: Junior Nicholas Simmons uses his iPad during his French class at Northwestern High School. Staff photo by Kelly Lafferty

Lauren Fitch, Kokomo Tribune Education Reporter

Students in Howard County are ahead of the curve in digital learning.

Northwestern School Corp., Eastern Howard County School Corp. and Western Community School Corp. all have K-12 1:1 technology, which means one tablet per student. Taylor Community School Corp. offers 1:1 technology for grades four through 12, and Kokomo School Corp. is 1:1 at certain schools and grade levels.

Regardless of the number of devices available or the way they are used in classrooms, all schools have seen more individualized learning as a result of the access to technology.

“It’s improved that whole idea of individual learning,” said Kristen Bilkey, principal of Northwestern High School, which is in its first year with 1:1 technology.

NWHS senior Miranda Nelson uses her iPad for the majority of her class time. With a few touches on the screen, she showed off an app that lists students’ classes, their assignments for each class and also allows them to submit homework to the teacher.

Nelson uses flashcard apps to help her study, and she finds it helpful to take photos of her teachers’ in-class notes and then add her own explanations to them.

“I can’t always write it or draw it like they do,” she said, giving the example of diagrams in her trigonometry class. “There’s less misunderstanding than if I write something down wrong.”

NWHS English teacher Natalie Guest had her ninth-grade students break into small groups and brainstorm different ways to give presentations with their iPads on books they had read.

Dennis Bagley, technology director at Eastern schools, also has seen an increase in student creativity with the use iPads.

“I see a lot more collaborative work and a lot more student-oriented work going on,” he said. “In the past, a teacher would expect a three-page paper. Now, they’ll accept a paper, a slideshow, an iMovie and other forms that show students are learning.”

Eastern has had 1:1 technology for two years, after running three years of pilot programs trying out different tablets. Eastern Elementary School was named one of Apple’s Distinguished Schools for 2013 through 2015, an honor reserved for schools that demonstrate Apple’s vision of a successful 21st century learning environment, have a good relationship with Apple and are willing to do outreach programs.

“If we’re going to change how the education system is working, we need to have changes that students embrace with the new methodology of learning,” Bagley said. “The kids like the equipment. They like the capabilities of things they weren’t able to do before.”

Paying for the iPads and associated equipment, training and support required Eastern to seek grants, take out loans and designate local funds to the cause. The corporation also shifted some of its book fees to pay for the devices instead of standard textbooks.

Kokomo Schools is in the process of offering one computer or computing device per student, with the goal of having 1:1 devices for the whole corporation by 2017.

With almost 6,300 students enrolled this school year, providing a computing device for each student is a tall order. Kokomo started its plan to outfit the entire corporation with 1:1 devices three years ago, with the goal of having students complete the ISTEP test on the laptops. Funds are budgeted for the initiative each year, with some of the money coming from capital projects.

Currently, Kokomo’s technology academies — Bon Air Elementary School, Bon Air Middle School and Pettit Park Elementary School — have 1:1 Android tablets or laptops. Ninth- and 10th-grade students also each have a device, with plans to add the other grade levels each year in the future.

Pettit Park teachers incorporate the laptops and tablets into stations, which keep students engaged in small-group or individual activities while the teacher moves around the room to help different students.

“The teachers in K-2 do a lot of movement with their interactive boards,” said Pettit Park Principal Teni Helmberger. “We can differentiate to each child’s learning style. If there’s a project, they can offer five different ways to present that project.”

Western Schools is in its first with 1:1 technology, and Superintendent Randy McCracken sees it opening up opportunities for students.

“Having technology right in their hand allows teachers to do much more,” he said. “It leveled the playing field so all kids have that technology opportunity. I’ve been impressed and pleased with the way teachers have jumped on board.”

Western entered into a four-year lease with Apple and used money from the capital project fund and fund equity plus shifted some textbook fees to cover the cost of the iPads.

Taylor Schools director of technology Patrick Bernotas has seen tablets change the way teachers and students interact in the four years Taylor High School has had 1:1 personal technology.

“It’s really turned the classroom around. A teacher is more of a facilitator. They’re guiding students through how to find information and disseminate information,” Bernotas said. “The students are doing their own learning, and the teachers are helping them decipher (the information) and make sure they come to the right conclusion.”

The middle and intermediate schools are in their first year with 1:1 technology, and the primary school uses tablets in small groups. State grants and book fees helped the corporation pay for the new devices.

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