In the world of today's teenagers, technological devices and the endless possibilities of the Internet accompany kids everywhere they go.
To not exclude school life from that development, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 started its school year Thursday by handing out 300 iPads at each of the five high schools in the district.
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It marks the beginning of the "one-to-one electronic device pilot program," a program to help students learn better methods of accessing information and collaborating with their peers and working with teachers.
The students are allowed to keep the iPads for the length of one course, which could be half a year or the entire school year. Students are encouraged to not only bring the iPads with them to that class, but to use them in any other courses and outside of school.
"Filling out work sheets, reading only books -- that is just not the way kids learn anymore," said Keith Sorensen, director of educational technology for the district. Instead, students are encouraged to look up class content on the Internet and to communicate about it online.
One way teachers and students will use their new devices is the "flipped classroom," meaning a teacher will post a video online the night before the next class, summarizing the class's content. This is not meant as a substitution for the class, but to give the students a better opportunity to prepare for it.
"It helps the lesson to move faster and allows for students to think about questions beforehand," said Sorensen.
Homework assignments, classroom texts, videos, tests and other material will be uploaded on classroom portals, which students and parents will be able to access online. The iPad is also a forum that allows the students to ask questions and to communicate with their peers. Some teachers will also have online office hours after school.
A committee consisting of an assistant principal, the technology coordinator from each school and administrators from the Administration Center will review the benefits of iPad use before the end of this school year to recommend whether the program should be expanded in the future.
Teachers applied to be in the pilot program. Their technology skills were at different levels, said Sorensen, so to prepare them for the new level of technology that would be expected of them in this school year, the school district set up one day of training plus numerous summer courses.
"Putting the material you teach online is just not enough," explained Sorensen. Communication with the students is important -- and the constant improvement of what is being taught.
The boost of technology is meant to be open for others: Students who do not get a free iPad to use are still welcome to bring their iPads or similar technical devices to class, said Sorensen.
However, a lot of teachers still don't feel comfortable having children in the classroom who have individual Internet access. But that, said Sorensen, will change with time.