Schools allow some students to bring personal tech devices to class

From laptops and Promethean Boards to iPods and avatars, St. Charles Parish Schools have technology covered. Now the district is taking their technology program a step further and inviting some select students to bring their own personal devices to school.

The National School Boards Association recently recognized St. Charles’ innovation with technology by hosting its annual site visit at local schools. This is only the second time the NSBA technology and learning network has chosen to visit a site in Louisiana. The visit was originally scheduled for the spring of 2006, but was postponed after Hurricane Katrina hit the area.

“St. Charles Parish has been on the horizon of being that leader in technology for many years and they had chosen us many years ago after coming to see what we had to offer,” Colleen Charles, the director of instructional technology, said.

Since 2006, the district has integrated even more technology into the classroom.

Devices used in local schools include Promethean Boards, ActivExpressions, laptops, iPods, e-readers, iPads, ActivSlates and numerous software programs for science, math, reading and more. The district budgeted over $3 million for technology in the general fund for the 2012 fiscal year to try to bring students into a more 21st-century classroom.

But this year, the district attempted to take an even bigger leap into the future of education by allowing select students at Hahnville and Destrehan high schools to bring their own devices to school and use them during classroom instruction.

“This is where the teaching environment is going and so far we’ve had great success,” Charles said.

The Bring Your Own Technology program, or BYOT, is being piloted in about 10 classrooms this fall and allows students to bring in almost any electronic device to integrate into the learning environment.

“We haven’t come across a device yet that we’ve had to say no to,” Charles said. “I visited a class at DHS…that had students who brought their own iPads, phones, iPods, a Macbook and a tablet PC.”

Charles said that the program has been very successful so far and she hopes the district will be able to expand it to the middle schools next year.

“The students want their own devices – they want to be able to use what they want when they want it,” she said. “BYOT gives students the opportunity to say ‘I want to look this up while we’re talking about it’…students have those preferences, especially in this era we’re living in with technology.”

Teachers participating in the pilot program will meet next month to look at the program’s challenges and strengths and to decide whether it can be expanded next year.

“The whole purpose is to help student achievement,” Charles said. “We’ve tried products before that didn’t meet the need or engage students or that weren’t all they were cracked up to be during the pilot.

“We don’t want to make the mistake of going too fast – we’re being very, very slow about this.”

Promethean Boards have been phased in over a two year period and Charles said the district’s goal is to have one in every math and science classroom, grade 4 and above. The interactive boards allow teachers to communicate more effectively to students and interact with computer software on a large scale with the class.

Every math classroom and almost every science class in 4th grade and up has a Promethean Board while every kindergarten through 12th grade English/Language Arts class has an ActivSlate, a handheld tablet that teachers and students can write on and have the writing projected onto a large board.

ActivExpressions are handheld devices that allow students to remotely send in answers to multiple choice questions and fill-in-the-blank questions during a class. Once each student answers the question, the results are displayed on the interactive board at the front of the class.

“The students can use them to respond to questions so that teachers and students can know right away who got the answer right,” Charles said. “It also stores the results on the teacher’s computer to export to an Excel spreadsheet so that the teacher can look at the details later and make a more informed decision about instruction for each student.”

There are at least two sets of 32 ActivExpressions at each school in the parish, according to Charles.

Laptops, e-readers and iPods are used to actively engage students in activities that they might otherwise find boring.

“For example, there are children that don’t like to read so (e-readers) are another way to engage them in reading and a way to have multiple books cheaply,” Charles said.

The iPods were given to about 100 teachers who completed a summer workshop and to some other select classrooms throughout the parish. Students are able to watch videos individually on the devices and engage in questions and activities about the videos independently. The exercise gives students the opportunity to be responsible for their own actions.

In addition to all of the advanced technological devices phased in across the district, school computers have a variety of software programs designed to engage students and enhance learning.


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