Tablets learning tool of choice in suburban schools

It's a scene that has played out repeatedly in Gretchen Rohr's classroom through the years.

The language arts and reading teacher at Viking Middle School in Gurnee would pose a question to her class, and the same four or five hands would go up.

Whether it was because of embarrassment or fear of being wrong, or something else, most of the students were reluctant to answer.

Then last year, Gurnee Elementary District 56 put iPads in the hands of every child in the district. Now with the help of an app she got online, Rohr can have all the students use their devices simultaneously to respond to her questions.

“So I can access every student in the moment,” she said. “I see the answers as they are coming in. And right away, I can make sure everybody is onboard with this idea or lesson. If I need to, I can reteach it.”

Rohr's experience is one example of the positive results District 56 officials have noted since joining a growing number of suburban school districts pursuing “one-to-one deployment” of iPads and other tablet computers.

While tablets are widely used in classrooms, some districts have taken the added of step of not replacing aging laptops and desktop computers and using the money saved to buy or lease tablets for their students.

“I am able to put a device in the hands of kids 24/7 instead of having a desktop sitting in a classroom between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. and not being used in the evening,” said Keith Bockwoldt, director of technology services with Northwest Suburban High School District 214. The district has been able to get iPads for about 4,900 of its 12,300 students and has plans to buy more.

Meanwhile, District 56 is giving students as young as 5 the opportunity to learn on an iPad.

“When we went to school, pencil and paper was kind of the center of our learning experience,” Superintendent John Hutton said.

“Now the iPad is the center of the learning experience for our kids.”

Constant learning

Last year, Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire distributed iPads to about 750 students for use in three different courses.

When classes resume today at Stevenson, about 2,600 of its roughly 3,800 students will have an iPad for use in 110 courses. The plan is for every student to have a device by the end of the 2014-15 school year.

“The idea is that a student, from the minute he or she walks into our school, will be getting a device and they'll have it all four years,” Stevenson High School District 125 spokesman Jim Conrey said.

“Our job as a school is to get students ready for life after high school,” he said. “And life after high school definitely involves being able to use this technology.”

Educators say one advantage of giving students tablets capable of storing notes, electronic textbooks, education apps, video lessons and other multimedia is that their learning doesn't end when the bus takes them home.

Officials with Huntley Unit District 158 said students who received Kuno tablets from the district were able to email teachers or have online chat sessions with classmates to get homework assistance.

“It expands the classroom out of the school wall,” said Mike Moan, the district's chief academic officer. “You can take the tablet anywhere. You can use it all day to continue your learning.”

Greater engagement

Several educators cited a noticeable jump in student engagement once devices were introduced to their classrooms.

“You are seeing students who are more involved and active learners,” said Marie Hoffmann, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction with Carol Stream Elementary District 93. The district is working toward putting iPads or MacBook Airs in the hands of every student by 2015.

Last year, about 400 kindergartners used the iPads and roughly 400 sixth-graders used the MacBook Airs.

Hoffmann said creativity among those children just bloomed.

“We're seeing them ask a lot of questions and actively look for answers,” she said. “They are becoming problem solvers because they know that the answers are at their fingertips.”

Because of the variety of apps available for the devices, students can have personalized learning experiences. For example, children having a harder time reading can use an app designed to help them read.

Hoffmann says the technology doesn't diminish the role teachers play in the classroom. In fact, it's up to teachers to orchestrate how devices will be used to support traditional instruction methods.

“That teacher needs to have an in-depth knowledge of those children to be able to use the device to personalize the learning experience for those kids,” she said.

Looking ahead

Several districts indicated it's too soon to tell if giving students a tablet will result in higher test scores.

But District 214 reported improved test scores in an advanced placement human geography class and a biology class.

“We haven't seen a decline at all,” said Bockwoldt, adding that students with the devices become more motivated and organized.

Meanwhile, Moan said, the day will come when tablets will eliminate the need for paper textbooks. He said District 158 already is buying electronic textbooks for its tablets.

“There's no greater tool than putting a device in every student's hands,” he said. “It really revolutionizes education.”

District 56's Hutton agrees tablets are the future. “We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with this new technology,” Hutton said.

“There's a lot of people who are now supporting this technology. That's going to make it even more powerful than what it is right now.”

  Honors physics teacher Jon Heintzelman helps Charlie Smith log into his iPad on the first day of classes at Hersey High School. Bob Chwedyk/
  Honors physics teacher Jon HeintzelmanÂ’s class makes use of iPads on the first day of classes at Hersey High School. Bob Chwedyk/
  Honors physics teacher Jon Heintzelman teaches students how to use their iPads on the first day of classes at Hersey High School. Bob Chwedyk/
  Hersey High School physics teacher Andy Finlayson instructs Danny Obyrtacz on how to use an iPad the student received as part of a pilot program. Bob Chwedyk/
  About 4,900 iPads have been distributed to students in Northwest Suburban High School District 214. Bob Chwedyk/
  Hersey High School physics teachers Eric Johnson and Mary Kemp discuss the advantages of a program that gives iPads to students. Bob Chwedyk/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.