News Column

Tablet computers making technology more available to Poyner Elementary School students

February 10, 2014

By Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Feb. 10--EVANSDALE -- A group of Poyner Elementary School students gave the media center's newest digital devices a vigorous workout last week.

Some of the fourth- and fifth-graders used the wireless Google Nexus 7 computer tablets to play Lightbot, a puzzle game that introduces programming fundamentals. Fifth-grader Alex Deitrick inspired many of the children to check out Google Earth after announcing that he had found his house on the website.

Fifth-grader Hannah O'Connell was on Kidblog writing about a recent trip to Florida. Other students, including fourth-grader Logan Milligan, were on Destiny Quest, an online card catalog for the library that also has some social networking functions.

"You can actually have friends," he said, and recommend which books to check out. "I sent 77 recommendations for a book."

Milligan suggested the Nexus 7 tablets will be a useful addition to the library. "When we can't go in the computer lab, there's those computers," he said, pointing to two laptop and three desktop models along one wall of the media center. The new devices mean many more students will be able to use computers during the four days they visit the library every week.

The 10 Nexus 7 tablets were recently delivered to Poyner after it was chosen through a Waterloo Schools Foundation drawing at a Board of Education meeting last month. The set of hand-held computers, valued at $2,290, were donated by the foundation as it kicks off an application process for innovation grants that are available to Waterloo Community Schools teachers.

"I always joke I'm a technology integrationist without technology," said Angi Webb, the school's media specialist. "That's what I'm trying to do, get them to think about technology a little bit more and integrate that into their lives." The idea is to increase their computer literacy.

Webb takes students to the computer lab as often as possible, but sometimes they're already being used by a class. She had been planning to use money raised through the book fair and a raffle at the school's fun fair to buy more computer technology for next year before Poyner won the drawing. "I have been trying so hard to get something, so it's such an answered prayer," said Webb.

When classes come to the library, she said half of the students will check out books while the other half uses the tablets. Part way through the 50-minute period, the students will switch.

That will make the computer teaching Webb does more hands-on. Typically students have had to watch as she led such lessons, like a recent one on computer coding. Now a whole group of students will be able to follow along on a device while she demonstrates.

Britt Jungck, executive director of the Waterloo Schools Foundation, said the organization is seeking grant applications from district teachers for needs like Webb was facing. "I would say that a significant portion of this year's awards will involve technology purchases as well, whether that be equipment or software," Jungck said in an email. She noted that is "a key need" for students exploring science, technology, engineering and math "and is harder for the district to purchase because software involves ongoing costs."

The foundation awarded grants during the last two years for 30 Apple iPads at two different schools. The district also makes funding available for such purchases, including fairly large pilot projects approved by the board. A total of 160 iPads and 165 Android Asus Eee Pad tablets were purchased for selected schools in 2011 while 240 Chromebook laptop computers were purchased for some schools a year ago.

Matt O'Brien, executive director of technology, said the district provides the funding so that each teacher has a laptop computer and there's one device for every three students. Some schools have included tablet computers in the mix as they replaced aging technology. Others have used grant funding, often awarded as part of a school improvement plan, to further reduce their student-to-device ratio.

"We're very cognizant that technology is not going to be a silver bullet or a magic wand," said O'Brien, noting the devices need to be paired with good instructional practices. "In the cases where (technology is) used effectively, it absolutely can be a powerful tool to enhancing student instruction."

As tablet computers and other technology expand in the district, "we want to make sure that we're doing that in a thoughtful manner," he said.


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Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (IA)

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