JT looks back on first semester of new tech program
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org February 3, 2013 5:56PM
Kristin Demski, right, leads her freshman biology class via a computer at Joliet West High School in Joliet, IL on Friday February 1, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:20AM
In August, Joliet Township High School issued laptops to freshmen for the first time in school history.
In the long run, the program — the 1:1 Technology Initiative — will issue a laptop to every JT student for academic use, on all four grade levels, at both West and Central campuses.
With the first semester now complete, school leaders are excited about the program.
“It’s outperformed my wildest imagination, in all aspects,” Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy said.
One student, one laptop. Every room of each campus has wireless capabilities, and freshmen now have a connection to learning that remains when they go home, whenever they need it.
Dale West, a teacher at Central, demonstrated several benefits of this program last week at a school showcase, held at the district administrative center.
A teacher like West can take control of all laptops in a classroom — from his own computer at the front — and then walk the students through a lesson on their own screens. This particular program is known as LanSchool.
West can give instruction individually, guiding a particular student on his own screen, on a one-to-one basis.
From his computer at the front, West can monitor activity on all his students’ laptops, and keep his class on task.
If he notices that students are playing on Facebook or YouTube, he can take control of their screens and block the Internet.
Conversely, if he observes that one student is doing excellent work, he can request the student’s approval to display the work on all the other students’ screens.
“And that gives you praise and motivation,” McCarthy said. “It makes them think, ‘I want people to be able to see my work, too.’”
West also can administer tests and quizzes via laptop. He can monitor student progress every step of the way.
Freshmen now have these capabilities in all their classes, in all subjects.
Kristin Demski, a biology teacher at Joliet West, outlined JTLearn — a digital platform that allows easy communication and collaboration between students and teachers.
JTLearn has three levels:
The teacher’s page, with the class syllabus and OneNote binders that students need to download for class. These OneNote binders keep students’ material organized in digital folders — not paper folders, which become easily cluttered, disorganized or lost.
The class page — for instance, Demski’s biology page. Here, students can get all their assignments through the computer. They can upload all their homework, and any fill-in notes.
“They can also look at the calendar, with the agenda on it, so they see what they’re doing every day. I do that on a week-to-week basis, so they know what they’re doing for the entire week,” Demski said.
The period level, which covers that student’s particular class period.
“Anything that they want to turn in to me, I can open it up on Microsoft Word, and comment on it, and I can resubmit it back to them. So they can see the grade and the comments that I made on their work. That’s where we also do the class discussions,” Demski said.
MacKenzie O’Connor, a freshman at Joliet West, likes the way the laptops bring students together in class discussions.
“People are able to come together,” O’Connor said. “It’s easy to be able to send someone a message, and it’s easy to be able to talk about something. And I noticed that it’s a lot easier for kids to give their real opinions on open boards or blog posts. It’s easier for them to express what they really mean.”
Zach Browning, a West freshman, was asked what he likes best about the new system.
“Organization,” he said. “There’s not as many papers and stuff that you can lose. It’s all together on one document and on a computer.”
McCarthy echoed O’Connor’s sentiments. She said digital communication brings out the talents of those who might be hesitant to participate otherwise.
“I ask them, ‘How does the discussion board help?’ And one of the young men said: ‘There are several of my friends who are shy and don’t raise their hand and say anything. But when I see what they write on the discussion board, I’m so impressed. They have great ideas, but they would never share them by raising their hand.’”
Members of the 1:1 Steering Committee are in the process of selecting the computing device that will be distributed to incoming freshmen next year. At last week’s showcase, technology vendors highlighted the newest devices available on the market.
The steering committee includes parents, students, community members and staff members.
“I think it’s a great idea having this type of display, with all the different vendors showing all the various products. I think it’s absolutely the best way to go,” said Richard Pagliaro, assistant superintendent for business.
Karen Harkin, director of information technology services for the district, organized the showcase.
“I was so excited that we had students come out and participate and be a part of those discussions, and share how it really affects them — because they’re what it’s all about,” Harkin said.