Schools in Oregon and across the country are rapidly investing in technology for students.
Educators largely agree that laptops and tablets can be powerful instructional tools. But, with problems emerging in Los Angeles - at the nation’s second largest school district - slowing down may have its benefits.
In a previous article, we visited two districts that have prioritized buying new tablets for middle school students. Today, Rob Manning visits Beaverton, where officials are asking students to “B-Y-O-D” or “bring your own device.”
School officials generally agree with a basic premise when it comes to technology.
“For younger people, this is how they interact with the world. This is their mode of connecting,” says Florence Richey, the principal at Beaverton’s Stoller Middle School.
“And it’s so normal for them, that we’re actually, I feel that we’re holding them back from their creativity and thinking when we tell them they can not do it,” says Richey.
But for years, teachers at Oregon’s largest middle school have told students not to use devices.
“If we see ‘em, we take ‘em, and turn them into the office, and there’s a protocol if they have their phones out,” says Todd Freiboth, who teaches science at Stoller.
That attitude has changed in Beaverton. Students are invited to bring devices to school through something the district calls “bring your own device.”
“If kids can bring in devices, and use them in school, then schools don’t have to supply every kid with a computer,” says Stoller science teacher John Wickham. “And we’re lucky enough to have the resources for a number of kids to bring in their own devices.”
Beaverton opened a new secure, filtered network for students this fall.
Whether districts ask students bring devices - like in Beaverton, or if the district buys them –as it does in David Douglas — it opens opportunities and problems.
First, the opportunities.
Students in Rick Thames’ math class at Alice Ott Middle School have school-provided tablets. Thames can project student answers from their iPad minis onto a whiteboard.The answers are anonymous, so wrong answers won’t embarrass anyone.
Teacher Lory Loridsen uses iPad minis, too, to tailor writing instruction to students at different levels.
“This is the deal — These are the folks I want to join me in the back table, and you will need all of your stuff …” says Loridsen. As she calls five students to the back of the room, more than twenty others work independently on their iPad minis.
Sometimes, Loridsen feels like they get too sucked in.
“I mean I had to really cut my way into their technology time,” says Loridsen. “I mean, it’s not just this ‘one-way’ communication piece. We have to work on that information together. That was something I didn’t expect in the beginning.”
What teachers did expect — and are now experiencing — are technical problems.
It’s a particular challenge at Stoller Middle School in Beaverton.
John Wickham’s science students are supposed to be learning about density. Instead, they’re trouble-shooting problems with the wi-fi network.
Wickham lets sixth grader Malachi Logan use one of the school iPads in the science classroom. Beaverton teachers often have to reserve them ahead of time, and students sometimes have to share them.
Sixth grader Katie Guthrie, brought a different kind of device from home. She’s come up with her own workaround to get online.
Some parents are concerned that the family bears liability if a device is damaged or stolen. Sometimes, it’s the student’s decision. That’s the case with seventh grader Adit Gupta. He’s working on a school computer.
Gupta’s classmate, Roshni Sarathy, does bring her laptop to school. She says the school computers are too slow.
“I have it in my locker all the time, and then usually in science, if we’re doing research, I bring it to class,” says Roshni. “And then I bring it sometimes to humanities because sometimes you can study for your test using the internet and stuff.”
Sarathy’s wi-fi connection flitted in and out, and at one point and she wound up paging through a textbook that’s old as she is.
Administrators say the network problems have declined, since it went online last month.
Teachers like John Wickham say students with devices get a leg up.
“And that goes for any technology,” says Wickham. “I’m a former technology teacher, and I could definitely see a difference with students who didn’t have as much access to technology.”
Wickham hopes the district will eventually buy devices for individual students — and replace textbooks. Other Oregon districts are already re-purposing curriculum money in that way.
Wickham has applied for a grant, so he can get more devices in the hands of his students.