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Nettle Creek students get one-on-one technology program

MORRIS – Students in Katy Hester’s sixth-grade classroom may have looked like they were playing on Facebook as they watched the CNN Student News, but they actually were utilizing technology in a new way in their Nettle Creek School classroom.

While they watched a report about the recent earthquake in Chile that created a tsunami warning, the students typed thoughts and responses on their MacBook instead of having 10 students all talk about the video.

The students did this using Edmodo, a social learning website known as the Facebook for schools.

“Wow! I can’t believe it almost made a tsunami,” Chloe Robbins typed for the class to read.

“It’s sad because a lot of people died and lost their homes,” Virginia Hayes typed about another news story.

The comments show in real time. As students discuss the news, their teacher types out questions or comments, and reminds them how the podcast relates to classroom learning.

After the news is finished, the teacher uses the comments made by the students to start a discussion on what they saw.

“They are much more engaged,” Hester said.

Each student is assigned his or her own MacBook, which was distributed March 17 as part of a pilot program. Starting Monday, students were able to and encouraged to take the devices home.

“I think it’s easier [to do homework on the computer],” Miraya Smith said. “I like typing better than handwriting because I’m faster at typing.”

Hayes said she shares a computer at home with her family, and it’s much faster to have her own because she can do her homework whenever she wants.

Nettle Creek School is piloting a 1:1 Technology Program, giving iPads to kindergarten and first-grade classes, and MacBooks to third- and sixth-grade classrooms to utilize in class and at home.

“When I went to the board, I explained that schools are transitioning to one-on-one technology, and I asked them if they want to join in the beginning, the middle or the end,” Superintendent Don McKinney said. “They want to be in on it in the beginning.”

Members of the board, the staff and some parents went to Berwyn to see how it was working in one of Illinois’ three districts who are using the initiative in all grades.

The school board also hired Dennis Fischer as a part-time director of technology to help move the project forward.

Fischer said the district chose to use Apple products because the school already was using them, and the students and staff were comfortable with those products.

The computers are equipped with parental controls, which Fischer has set.

“The building has a firewall configured to block things we don’t want them to see,” Fischer said. “With these, the parents need to be diligent and supervise the children.”

Students are unable to download software or updates on their own, and the computers require a password that only Fischer or the teacher will have, so all equipment is operating with the same programs.

Next year all students in kindergarten through second grade will be assigned an iPad, while students in third through eighth grade will be assigned MacBooks.

Grant money and district funds have been used to buy the hardware and software, as well as protective gear for the devices.

Because Nettle Creek School has a Clear Sky tower on its property, it gets free Internet. McKinney said the district is in talks with Clear Sky to get more bandwidth, which will be needed to power all the devices when they go online next year.

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