Local school districts expand technology

2013-08-13T00:00:00Z 2013-08-19T17:30:02Z Local school districts expand technologyCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

While school districts create wireless environments, allowing students to bring personal devices and improving computer science, East Porter County School Superintendent Rod Gardin is upgrading technology his way.

Before Gardin makes laptops available for students, a teacher must answer the question: How will technology be used to improve instruction?

"Four of our English teachers have been able to answer that question," he said. "We have purchased classroom sets of laptops. Kids can use them, but they don't go home with them."

He said they have iPads for its elementary school.

"But we don't plan to just roll out and buy laptops for every student at this time," he said.

Kouts Elementary School second-grade teacher Nettie Eichelberger said the children's ability to use the laptop has increased efficiency and it allows her, as the teacher, to be in two places at one time. She said the youngsters love it, and it has improved their writing tremendously.

"The children use iPads and laptops," Eichelberger said. "The laptops are used for skill practice, things like spelling. The laptop is used for instruction. One group can get the instruction on the computer while I'm working with another group. They are writing and editing using the laptop, and the editing process is much easier for them."

Eichelberger said she also uses a course management system that directs the children to websites for activities, video or an assignment she has created for them. She said the laptop computers are on a cart and have been in place since last school year.

MSD Boone Township Superintendent George Letz is piloting a laptop program with eighth-graders. The district bought 100 laptops through the Common School Loan fund for $58,000. The loan will be repaid through book rental money.

"We are beginning with one grade level," he said. "Our plan is to add the ninth grade next year. The eighth-graders will take their laptop with them to high school. We'll add fifth grade the following year. So in three years, we'll have 300 units for grades five, eight and nine. Under this plan, fifth-graders moving into the middle school will have them already."

Letz said teachers have been trained on project-based learning. The laptops will assist the teachers with that, teaching Common Core skills and accomplishing their daily goals.

Porter Township Schools is rolling out a one-to-one computer program for students in grades nine through 12. They join several local districts, including Crown Point Community School Corp., Tri-Creek School Corp., School City of Hobart and School Town of Munster whose students work in a wireless environment.

Gary Community School Corp., which has hundreds of computers in classrooms, gymnasiums and offices, intends to upgrade its technology this school year. The district will begin the year with 3,700 new desktop computers. Another 136 laptops also have been ordered. The cost is $1.67 million, and it's being paid for through Title I money.

Lloyd Keith, director of Information Technology for Gary schools, said the current computers are old, anywhere from seven to 10 years, and it's time for new machines.

Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt is looking at a program where the old computers could be given to students for use at home or a community-based program where students could use them.

Gary school students will not have their own laptops except in the New Tech High School, housed at the Gary Area Career Center, Keith said.

He said one of the major issues to be addressed is the infrastructure in Gary's school buildings. Keith, a Gary native, who was most recently director of information technology at the University of Chicago, also would like to create a GSC Cloud, an inhouse, private system. Another project includes upgrading the district's email system.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said there are inequities in technology programs in schools across the state. She said the Indiana Department of Education will use the school improvement process to determine what type of technology schools have, infrastructure needs and Wi-Fi access in school buildings.

"We have many inequities in the state of Indiana," she said. "We will know what schools don't have wifi or devices for students, whether it belongs to the school or student. It will be about getting resources, grants and community support or through private groups. What resources can we put together to make sure all schools have access to technology?"

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