High-tech gadgets may soon become as commonplace in the classroom as calculators with more suburban school districts taking advantage of new technologies they say increase student performance and learning.
Between 6,000 and 7,000 Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 students will get their own fourth-generation Apple iPad to use next school year, paid for by the district at a cost of between $1.25 and $1.43 million for a three-year lease.
Officials decided this week to expand the district's experimental one-on-one program, which put iPad 2s in the hands of 1,500 students last fall, after reviewing the positive impacts iPads are having on instructors and students.
The use of iPads by District 211 students this school year has resulted in better organization, instant feedback, savings in paper and class time and more engaged classrooms, according to teachers leading the program.
"We believe the one-to-one program is changing our teachers, it's changing our instruction, and most importantly it's changing the way in which students interact with their world," said Daniel Cates, associate superintendent for administrative services.
District 211 officials are considering expanding the program to include every student by the 2014-15 school year.
That trend seems to be growing among the more affluent school districts.
Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire also is considering distributing iPads to all students by 2015. Every incoming freshman could get one starting with the 2013-14 school year. The school already leases hundreds of iPads for students and staff members participating in a test program.
A few other suburban schools have adopted similarly ambitious technology programs.
Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein gave Lenovo ThinkPad tablets and accessories for classroom and home use to more than 1,300 students at the start of the 2012-13 term. Gurnee Elementary District 56's 2,250 students will start using iPads by late February.
Meanwhile, Carol Stream Elementary District 93 plans to have its 4,000 students using personal iPad or MacBook Air laptop computers by 2015.
About 50 percent of District 211's students will be equipped with an iPad once the expansion is implemented. The exact number of iPads that will be leased cannot be determined until the roughly 60 additional teachers who will join the program are selected, officials said.
The cost will be covered through the district's projected $2.75 million technology budget for next school year, which includes $660,000 from the early release of tax revenues from a Palatine tax increment financing district. The district cut its technology budget by $1.4 million in the 2010-11 school year and has kept it at the lower level in subsequent years. Before than, it ranged from $3.3 million to $3.9 million.
Three teachers who are using the iPads in their classrooms made a presentation on their effectiveness to the board Thursday. While they all admitted there was a learning curve at first, there was a consensus that the devices are doing wonders for their students, particularly challenged learners.
Alina Morelli-Baima, a Schaumburg High School special education teacher, said the iPads have resulted in drastic improvements in reading scores. She said students who previously had little interest in school are now excited to know what they will do in class that day.
The devices also have saved Morelli-Baima a lot of time. Binder checks that used to take 15 minutes in class have been replaced with a digital drop box for assignments that she can check any time during the day, she said.
A technology gap also has been bridged for kids who don't have computers at home, she said.
Brian Curtin, an English teacher at Schaumburg High School, said the iPads have resulted in a huge increase in creativity and productivity. Students are regularly surprising him by finding new features on the iPad.
"Students are turning in more work. They're revising more often. And consequently the student work is of higher quality," he said.
Brian Harlan, a science teacher at Hoffman Estates High School, said the devices facilitate 100 percent participation every day in class. They also are saving a lot of paper -- he said he used a little less than 300 sheets of paper for his class when using the iPads, compared to about 5,000 sheets before the program.
"Students can no longer fly under the radar," he said, explaining that some apps let him know if a student has left a lesson on the iPad during class. "They're held accountable. We know exactly where each student is."
Harlan also said students who may have been scared to speak up in class before have told him they appreciate the iPad because of apps that allow them to participate anonymously.
Cates said the district is still waiting on teacher readiness before the program is expanded to the whole district.