District 158 to have computing devices for all students
When school starts Aug. 17, all Huntley High School students will get their own Chromebooks marking the final year of one-to-one technology implementation in every classroom in the district.
Huntley Community School District 158 is only the second unit district in the North, Northwest and Western suburbs to provide Chromebooks or tablet devices for its roughly 9,600 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Last fall, Burlington Central Unit District 301 gave a personal computing device to each of its more than 3,800 students. That district implemented one-to-one devices in kindergarten through 12th grade at the start of last school year after testing iPads, laptops and Chromebooks in classrooms for three years.
"Certainly we are the biggest (district) in Illinois that is all one-to-one K-to-twelve," Huntley 158 Superintendent John Burkey said. "It was a four-year process. I'm really proud of what we've accomplished as a district."
Other suburban unit school districts slowly are making the digital shift.
Elgin Area School District U-46 students in kindergarten through second-grade classrooms received new iPads last school year -- two per K-2 classroom on average for all 40 elementary schools. The goal is to have six tablet devices per elementary classroom by the 2017-18 school year.
Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 will deploy one-to-one devices this fall for students entering first through eighth grades and add a grade of high school in each ensuing year, so all students will be equipped with a personal computing device by 2020.
In Lake County, Lake Zurich Community Unit District 95 is the only unit district where all middle school and high school students have access to their own district iPads.
Naperville Unit District 203 has increased its technology fees for this upcoming school year to provide Chromebooks to all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Last fall, that district gave out Dell Chromebook 11 laptops to about 5,710 students at Naperville Central and Naperville North high schools, while iPads previously used at the high schools have been redistributed to elementary schools.
Indian Prairie School District 204 aims to provide students in third through 12th grades with Chromebooks or similar laptop devices by the 2018-19 school year. Chromebooks will be distributed to middle school students in 2016, high school students in 2017, and third- through fifth-graders in 2018.
Starting this year, Barrington Unit District 220 preschool and kindergarten students will have one iPad for every two students, while all students in second through eighth grades will get iPads, and ninth- through 12th-graders have MacBook Airs.
Burkey advises school districts considering going one-to-one not to upgrade for the sake of having technology.
"It's to help personalize learning for each student, help differentiate instruction for kids," he said. "The one-to-one environment really helps teachers to do that."
Yet, going digital doesn't mean books are out.
"Just having the devices doesn't make us good at it. It's how we've used the devices," Burkey said. "While we are a one-to one (district), there are times when students shouldn't be using a digital environment, especially in the early grades when kids are learning how to read. We don't take a black or white approach. Because we were the first to do this in kindergarten and first grade, we really did learn a lot in the first couple of years of implementation."
For elementary students, reading from hard copy books helps them learn to identify words because they can track them with their fingers, Burkey said.
"This will be a completely evolving thing every year," he added. "We do not take the approach that all learning should be on a computer. It's a tool that we are using for much of our instruction but certainly not all of it."
For example, how the district's more than 3,000 high schoolers use the devices will be distinctively different from students in elementary grades.
"Our curriculum is not based on the device," said Shelly Kish, Huntley High School associate principal who oversees curriculum, instruction and assessment. "We are just using the device to enhance what we are already doing."
Kish said teachers also must evolve, realizing they no longer are the experts in the classroom when it comes to technology since students have been using these devices for much longer.
"Ways to utilize that is put those kids in control, let them help each other," Kish said. "We as educators don't have to hold all of the knowledge. Kids can go find it themselves. We're more of facilitators and coaches in the classroom."
With the cost of tablets and other computing devices dropping, more school districts might be able to afford going digital.
Four years ago, District 158 spent roughly $500 a pop for tablet devices but now is using Chromebooks that cost about $200 each.
"They are cheaper, and they are a better device," Burkey said. "The technology has just gotten a lot more inexpensive since we started doing one to one. The cost of it is becoming much more affordable for us and for other districts."
District 158 redirected money it used to spend on textbooks and desktop computers to finance these new devices.
"Our largest infrastructure cost was putting Wi-Fi in all of our buildings," Burkey said. "It was done as each building was rolled out."
Four instructional coaches are being added at the high school this fall to help teachers develop instructional strategies with the technology.
The district also is providing in-house training for teachers on effectively using technology in the classroom. A two-day conference last week at McHenry County College addressed topics including formative assessments, moving the classroom from student consumption to student creation, exploring a growth mindset and using video for instruction and assessment.
"This (training) is focused on improving instruction, not just using technology for the sake of using technology," Kish said.