Laptops open up learning for JT freshmen
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org September 25, 2012 8:36PM
Joliet Central High School students Kevin Cruz, left, and Terion Chilps work on their new laptop computer at the school in Joliet, IL on Friday September 7, 2012. When school began two weeks ago, every freshman at Joliet Township High School was issued a laptop -- a first in school history. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 27, 2012 6:02AM
JOLIET — Andres Grijalva worked on his laptop computer, and a linear equation lighted up in a spectrum of colors as he made his way to the solution.
Blue numbers indicated his original work. Green indicated his revisions. Red was feedback from Darcy Newell, his teacher in this algebra class at Joliet Central High School.
With these laptops, math is no longer a mess of chalk or a confusing collection of numbers. Instead, it moves neatly in layers through the spectrum to the final result, with student and teacher tracking the whole process.
At Joliet Township High School, every freshman was issued a laptop computer when the academic year began in August. At both the Central and West campuses, freshmen are participating in a first-time program designed to improve learning and keep students engaged in lessons.
With laptop learning, students’ minds are always busy. There is more reason to pay attention, because all students are working on a problem or answering a question — not just one individual being called on by the teacher.
Grijalva is a freshman in a class taught by Newell and fellow teacher Emily Beal. During a recent class, Grijalva looked over his work on the linear equation, which he performed with a pen and computer tablet.
Newell’s computer has wireless communication with each student’s laptop. Thus she was able to do a digital markup of Grijalva’s work. In her own handwriting, Newell commented, “Good, but check again,” and drew a red line pointing to a specific section that she circled.
“It’s helpful. I get feedback faster,” Grijalva said of the new laptop format.
“They’re engaged, and they’re more willing to revise,” Newell said of her students. “They stay engaged because they can see progress.”
The laptop program extends into other freshman classrooms. Grijalva simply clicked the left side of his screen and brought up his social studies binder and his English binder. With these laptops, students are learning to become “digital citizens” in the 21st century.
Off to good start
Joliet Township High School distributed the laptops to freshmen on the first two days of the new school year, said Mike Wilkes, application services manager for the school district.
On Aug. 20, around 650 laptops were issued to Central freshmen. The following day, around 720 devices were issued to West freshmen.
After distribution, the district opened up student help desks at both campuses. These help desks then distributed more than 100 additional laptops to students who could not attend the first two days. Now, the desks are busy working to solve any hardware and software issues that students may have.
“They’ve been pretty active over the last two weeks. So far, things are going really well,” Wilkes said.
Recently, Kristi Aeschliman and Marty Barnat worked at the student help desk at Central. Aeschliman helped a student who had been locked out of his user account. This desk is open from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at Central.
Aeschliman is a technical support specialist who works full-time at the Central Campus on East Jefferson Street. Barnat is a computer technician based at the district administrative center on Caterpillar Drive.
The freshman laptop program — called the 1-to-1 technology initiative — is off to a good start, Aeschliman said. Students have shown patience in waiting for the desk to resolve problems, she added. If the problem cannot be solved quickly, loaners are available for students.
The district wants students to volunteer at these help desks. At West, current volunteers include sophomores, juniors and seniors. Central soon will interview volunteers who have applied.
Volunteer work will look good on students’ college applications and future resumes, said Kristine Schlismann, district spokeswoman. The work also provides important experience for students in the Business Management and Information Systems Academy.
The new laptops also help students keep their classwork and homework in order.
“It’s more organizable,” Grijalva said. “It’s easier to carry around than all those binders.”
Quizzes are in a digital notebook, and assignments are on a digital calendar. Grijalva also showed how easy it is to turn in an assignment: He hit “file,” and then “sync status,” and his work went right to the teacher’s laptop via the JT Learn online environment, to which both student and teacher devices are linked. No paper to lose, and no chance for the dog to munch on it.
However, several students in Newell and Beal’s class did take paper notes along with their computer work. Each student can seek the right combination of old and new.
Another overall goal — besides improved learning and attentiveness — is responsibility. Students are learning to be responsible for the laptops, which are like a key to the lessons of each classroom.
And after three weeks, the results were very positive. Newell teaches 150 freshmen every day in her various classes — and no laptops had been lost or stolen. Only three students had forgotten their laptop at home, and never more than once.
Forward and back
In the classroom, Newell and Beal covered several aspects of linear equations — constants, variables, coefficients and inverse operations.
As students learned the problems forward and back, the two teachers had freedom to cover the classroom forward and back.
Gone are the days of the teacher standing at the chalkboard with her back to the classroom. Today, Newell teaches from the aisles, from the side of the classroom, or wherever she needs to be in order to keep track of her students’ progress.
Newell stood in the aisles — among the students — and faced the front of the classroom with them. She used her wireless mouse to solve an algebra problem on the computer projection screen.
The wireless mouse — in the form of a pen and digital tablet — is called a Mobi. With it, Newell has increased mobility to keep students on task.
Newell uses the pen on her tablet, and her work appears in her own handwriting on the projection screen. She also uses the pen to move a pointer around the big screen to highlight an aspect of the problem. She uses different colors — red, green and blue — for different stages of the problem.
With the Mobi and laptops, students and teachers can connect on a level and at a frequency not available before.
“I get better grades now,” said David Carter, a Central freshman, noting that he feels more motivated and more responsible with the new laptop.
Carter, a graduate of Dirksen Junior High School in Joliet, stays focused in class. He knows that he’s on a different level now, and the laptop helps.
“In high school, you’ve really got to pay attention,” he said.