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Article updated: 12/31/2013 3:14 PM

Lake County schools in Lake Zurich, Gurnee bullish on iPads

By Bob Susnjara

Personal tablet use at two Lake County school districts has led to improved student classroom engagement and other benefits, according to teachers and administrators.

Lake Zurich Unit District 95 started its mobile device initiative in August when 1,300 iPads were issued to middle and high school students. Gurnee Elementary District 56 is in first full academic season with all 2,500 pupils in possession of iPads.

Administrators and teachers at districts 95 and 56 are bullish on what both call the "1 to 1" tablet initiative.

"Student engagement is through the roof," said District 56 technology director Philip Hintz. "Absentee rates have fallen because kids want to come to school and not miss out."

District 95 eighth-grade teachers Marcia Day and Beth Schoo recently updated the school board about their experiences with the iPads for science classes. Day said one benefit of the devices has been the ability of students to view her presentations in advance of discussions for the flipped classroom education model she's using.

With the flipped classroom style, teachers present lectures and lessons on video that students are supposed to view at home and replay as often as necessary. Pupils can learn at their own pace, while parents have an opportunity to interact with their children and observe what they are being taught.

In the classroom, students work on applying and practicing the lessons they've learned on the video.

"The quiet kids in the classroom really start speaking because they have some information to bring," Day told the District 95 board.

Schoo said the iPads are allowing teachers to offer various media as information sources for their class work.

"We acknowledge and are aware that in society and the way we are moving, that we are not the end all, be all anymore as teachers," Schoo said. "There are lots of other sources of information that the kids can use to help ... further their learning."

District 56 is believed to be one of the few elementary school systems providing personal tablets to every student, from prekindergarten through eighth grade. The devices were fully introduced by last spring.

Hintz said sixth-grade teacher Stephanie Parker attracted strong interest in voluntary, after-school online discussions via the iPads stemming from what's addressed earlier in the day in her language-arts classroom. Hintz said the chat session was expanded to other classes because of full participation by the initial Viking Middle School section.

"How often do you see middle schoolers asking for more school?" Hintz said. "This is just one of many examples of where we are seeing positive results in our new way of delivering education."

Another plus outside the classroom is that students have been learning how to responsibly communicate in the digital world, Hintz said. For example, he said, the young students have been able to email teachers and each other on a closed system.

Both districts have been keeping tabs on how the iPads are being treated by students.

District 95 has logged seven damaged devices at Lake Zurich High School, 30 at Middle School North and 10 at Middle School South for the current academic year. Three iPads have been reported lost or stolen at the high school.

Hintz said District 56 has had five tablets lost or stolen since last spring. He said Gurnee police know each school's color coding for the iPad cases in the event the information is needed for suspected theft.

Twitter: @DHBobSusnjara

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