A new academic trek
By Tony Graf email@example.com March 18, 2012 9:50PM
Michael O'Shea (top) fields questions as seniors Devon Oliver (center) and Marissa Garcia, 17, (right) work on their ByteSpeed NL2 Classmate laptops during English IV class at Joliet West High School Monday, March 12, 2012, in Joliet. Joliet Township High School will distribute laptops to every freshman beginning next year. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
JOLIET — The new laptop program literally was years in the making at Joliet Township High School.
In 2009, the school approved a five-year strategic plan with goals and strategies to provide every student with a rigorous, relevant and innovative education.
The plan contains detailed action plans written by a team of parents, students, teachers, administration, community and school board members.
Shad Hallihan, assistant principal at Joliet West, and Greg Thompson, dean at Joliet West, worked with a committee on one of the action plans, to outline technology recommendations.
In January 2011, the district brought back this team to review a particular action plan: that the high school will ensure all teachers are utilizing technology and a variety of effective teaching strategies in order to engage students in relevant lessons.
They were assigned a task of investigating the possibility of a “1-to-1” computing environment — which eventually would provide every student and teacher access to his or her personal, portable technology in a wireless environment.
After conducting extensive research on 1-to-1 computing environments, engaging in group and team discussions, and completing a cost-benefit analysis, they recommended revisions to the plan and outlined the necessary steps for creating a 1-to-1 computing environment.
Making it happen
In March 2011, the Joliet Township High School Board approved the 1-to-1 laptop program for freshmen. Hallihan then formed a steering committee to put the program into place.
Karen Harkin, director of information technology services for the district, was a member of that committee. Panel members decided on the features they wanted in a laptop. They put together a big wish list, and emphasized the importance of having broad goals. Harkin researched what was available on the market.
The steering committee held a mini-technology fair, where vendors exhibited their laptops and committee members asked questions.
The committee decided on a specific brand of laptop. However, the work was far from over at this point.
The district then spent an entire year of training teachers for the laptop program. Teachers have gotten used to the laptops, and also developed strategies for online learning, said Alberto Filipponi, district curriculum director.
McCarthy emphasized the importance of incorporating the laptop into lessons; in determining where it fits and where it does not fit; and in using it to improve learning, not just change the mode of learning.
“It’s important that we’re not just using technology for the technology’s sake,” McCarthy said. “It’s not about the device — it’s about what we do in the classroom.”
During this yearlong process, the district made sure that teachers felt supported as they developed their strategies, said Jill Meadows, instructional technologist.
“The teachers had to get comfortable and confident, and really start applying it now on the instructional side,” Meadows said.
Updated: April 20, 2012 8:04AM
JOLIET — Aug. 20 begins a four-year academic trek for students in the Class of 2016.
It’s also the day they go live.
All freshmen will receive laptops for academic use beginning next school year at Joliet Township High School.
Students will use the small computers in class and at home, they will research and write papers on the devices, and they will learn to become responsible “digital citizens,” Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy said.
“The body of knowledge remains the same. The technology allows us to go deeper into that knowledge, and become better at analysis, critical thinking and the use of creativity,” McCarthy said.
The ByteSpeed NL2 Classmate computers are designed specifically for educational purposes. They have both a keyboard and tablet function. The swivel screen can be used as a tablet, like an iPad.
There also is a stylus for use with the tablet, so students can make notes, work on math problems, or work on art projects.
The laptops have a rugged, rubberized surface with rounded corners, to safeguard against damage. This makes the computers a little heavier than an average laptop, though they are smaller.
On the other hand, the freshmen will be issued fewer textbooks.
The program is a cost-neutral endeavor, district leaders said. In preparation for the program, the district has reduced the cost associated with textbooks, copying and printing.
The laptops will include a digital platform — JTLearn — that allows easy communication between student and teacher.
Teacher Michael O’Shea already uses the JTLearn platform in his English 4 classroom at Joliet West High School. He has his own internal site — as will all teachers in freshman classes — and that site is divided into different classes and classroom periods.
At this point, O’Shea’s class is a pilot program. Students use the laptops only in class and do not take the computers home.
However, O’Shea’s seniors now are doing what freshmen will do next year: use the laptops to work through lessons in class, to do online research for papers, and to write the papers.
Devon Oliver, a senior in O’Shea’s class, showed The Herald-News how the laptops work. He clicked on a link, which O’Shea had favorited, to open up a Microsoft Word document. Next year, that link will be right on the student’s schedule, as it appears on the screen.
On the Word document, O’Shea had written questions for students. Oliver had to type in his answers to the questions and save the document. That sent it back to O’Shea for evaluation.
All this means increased accountability for students in class: When the teacher asks a question, everybody types in the answer — not just those students who raise their hand. And on research papers, students may be required to show progress at intermediate deadlines, not just the final deadline.
The digital platform is a change for teachers as well.
“I have to be much more active, and it’s a lot more student centered. There’s a lot less lecture and a lot more ‘do,’” O’Shea said.
O’Shea helped train teachers in the JTLearn platform. His work is one example of the district’s extensive preparation for the laptop program. (See accompanying story).
Next school year, students in math classes can work out problems on the laptops at their desks. Instead of having a student work out a problem at the chalkboard, a student’s laptop work may be displayed on a projection screen for the whole class to view.
Also, LanSchool technology enables teachers to record a student’s progress through a particular problem and view it a later time, in order to examine the student’s thought processes.
The laptops are part of the school’s effort to teach students the character attribute of responsibility.
In using the laptops at home and at school, the students will learn to be ‘digital citizens,” who interact with society in a responsible and respectful way.
They will learn to think before they act. Instead of just posting their thoughts on a blog, they will ask themselves beforehand: Do I have evidence to back this up? Am I addressing people in an appropriate and responsible manner? Am I contributing to the common good?
One day, the district would like all students to be issued laptops. This year is an important first step.
“We’re a very innovative school district,” said Alberto Filipponi, district curriculum director. “We take advantage of every opportunity to make our district a school of choice. It’s important that our kids want to come to this school, and for the community to be proud of what we’re doing.”