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Portland Tribune: Mobile Devices Aid Student Learning

When student Eddie Chavez taps into resources on the Internet, he learns from two communities of teachers, those inside his school and others around the world.

Chavez, a senior at Hillsboro High School, uses an iPad to make his day easier and his education stronger.

“I organize my life on the planet with it,” Chavez said. “It’s endless. There’s not one day that I don’t go looking for something useful.”

From online tutorials to downloadable apps of periodic tables and conversion units, the mobile computer gives Chavez learning opportunities that enrich his classroom experience.

The Hillsboro School District has relaxed its policy on student use of mobile devices in school. With a teacher’s discretion, students can use a personal device in class as a learning aid.

“More kids bring in tablets because computers at the school aren’t the best,” Chavez explained. “It’s a fast world, and the computers are not keeping up.”

Computers available to students in Hillsboro schools are desktop computers inside computer labs. There often are not enough computers for the number of students in the lab, and when a student finally does get access, the older model computers can take up to 10 minutes to load a homework assignment, Chavez said.

“I remember some of that technology from when I was in the first grade,” he added.

Chavez plans to attend college and is interested in political science or public administration. He already has shown a talent for activism by participating with a group from the district that went to Salem to advocate for more K-12 funding. He also worked the phone bank for Citizens for Hillsboro Schools, the group promoting a $25 million bond for school maintenance and technology that is now going before voters.

“I’m raising my voice for my younger brother in the fourth grade,” Chavez said. “I want him to have a better opportunity through better technology. It will enhance how our teachers teach us and how we learn.”

The district is asking voters to approve Measure 34-206 so it can upgrade its infrastructure, replace outdated equipment and buy more technology for classrooms. Mail-in ballots for the Nov. 5 election were mailed to voters Oct. 18.

If the bond passes, the cost to property owners will be 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $84 a year for a home valued at $200,000. The new property tax would begin in November 2014 and continue through November 2018.

Tighter budgets since 2008 have forced the school district to abandon its regular cycle of computer replacement. According to the district, about 60 percent of its desktop computers are more than 6 years old and many are pushing a decade in age.

“Imagine using a machine in the business world that is 10 years old,” said Liberty High School math teacher Steffan Ledgerwood. “We’re using strategies from the 1990s. Without new technology, we’re not training students for jobs of tomorrow.”

Ledgerwood embraces the policy of allowing students to use personal devices in his classroom. However, only students whose families can afford them have access.

“This is an equity of learning issue,” Ledgerwood pointed out.

In his classroom, Ledgerwood demonstrates daily how technology improves student comprehension.

For example, he uses his tablet computer and a geometry app to project a 3-D image of a triangle on a wireless projector to show the object’s rotation through various degrees.

According to Ledgerwood, with a visual explanation, the students said, “Oh, now I get it.”

Computer training for teachers is another one of Ledgerwood’s goals. He noted that only a handful of Hillsboro teachers regularly use computers for classroom instruction, but with professional development comes more innovative instruction.

“Technology builds skills,” said David Vickery, dean of students at Hilhi and a former teacher at South Meadows Middle School. “It’s not just about finding the answer, but what you can do with the answer.”

Vickery, who was part of a district study team that looked at the benefits of technology, envisions a time when students can take home tablet computers for extended learning in the same way they now take home textbooks.

“Technology in the classroom is the great equalizer,” Vickery said. “When you have a classroom with one teacher, you have one expert in the room. When kids have access to technology, the number of experts is in the millions.”

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