TMS Chromebooks change learning climate for students

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Tecumseh Middle School student Isabel Lewandowski said the laptops provide good study resources and also require responsibility to stay on task with the technology. Photo by Deb Wuethrich.

Three Tecumseh Middle School teachers joined Todd Thieken, Director of Curriculum and Technology, at the Monday, Feb. 10 school board meeting to share information on the “Flipped Classroom” model, as well as a report on the Innovative Secondary Schools Initiative (ISSI) grant that funded Google Chromebooks for all of Tecumseh’s 8th graders this school year.

Math teacher Jennifer Keffer, Science teacher Shelly Smith, and Social Studies teacher Julie McDowell talked about how instructional material is placed online for students to access and study at home with the Flipped Classroom model, which is defined as “inverting traditional teaching methods by delivering instruction online outside of the classroom and moving homework into the classroom.”

Keffer said the concept is not about just watching online videos, although the students do view videos, many that teachers like Keffer custom design themselves.

“In the classroom, there is more interaction and time for meaningful activities to occur face-to-face during class and that’s important,” Keffer said. “It allows students to get individual time in class to work with teachers on key learning activities that would have previously been taken up with lecture time.”

Smith said the concept also allows for more in-depth discussion.

“Students are held accountable for their work,” she said. “We give quizzes so there’s feedback right away for the teachers and for the students.” She adds that students can go back to the work online when they miss school due to illness — even on recent snow days. The technology is also more beneficial for special education students who can take more time online if needed.

McDowell said some view social studies and history as boring, but the new concept allows for more engaging activities. “We will watch videos of Gettysburg before we go on our trip in June,” she said. “Things are more exciting in class that would have been lost to note taking before.” The teachers say they also respond to emails students write, answering questions even in the evenings.

Such innovation would not be possible without the ISSI grant through the Lenawee Intermediate School District, said Thieken, who added getting the Chromebooks into the hands of every 8th grader cost just under $70,000. Each device costs $249. The grants have been utilized for other things in previous years. State officials have urged schools to collaborate more, so students using the Chromebooks are partnering with peers in the Adrian and Clinton school districts, sharing documents, information and discussions.

“This is definitely the classroom being transformed from inside the schools to outside the schools on a daily basis,” Thieken said. Teachers met in September to initially get the program going, and will meet again in March to focus on improved instructional methods and assessment opportunities.

“The goal of the grant is to increase student achievement through use of technology and through collaboration,” Thieken said.

According to McDowell, one of the things Tecumseh teachers have discovered in working with other districts is that not everyone has access to the technology.

“That’s not been a concern of any 8th grade classroom here. We always have access to the technology and that’s a luxury we really need to project about this district,” she said. While kids tend to be savvy with the technology, the teachers said, there’s been a gap in their education for applying it to workforce purposes and productivity. “This is allowing us to teach kids in ways we were never able to reach them before,” McDowell added.

Thieken said not only are the students learning to share documents and collaborate online, teachers can share resources, instructional strategies and build off each other.

“Students are a little more motivated because of the technology and we feel we’re improving their learning, though we don’t have the data to show it yet,” he said. “We do think this is making a difference in the learning environment at the middle school.”

Isabel Lewandowski, an 8th grade recipient of a Chromebook, said she likes them.

“They are really helpful for getting homework done and if you have a question and you don’t have your book with you, you can go back online and look,” she said. “Also, you don’t have to carry around 20 pounds of books.”

She said teachers provide links, and they also have their own websites where material is posted. “If we miss a day, our homework is right there online,” she said. The students do not take them home during the summer, however.

TMS Principal Rick Hilderley said the staff had to deal with some “silly stuff” in the beginning, such as diverting student attention from games and Facebook during class time. “Our teachers found ways to deal with that,” he said. “One of those was to keep them engaged in what they are doing in the classroom. That’s really smoothed the trail tremendously.”

Lewandowski said most students stay on task with the Chromebooks. “You’ve just got to be really responsible with it and the teachers just have to trust that you’re going to do the things at home that you’re supposed to.”

Board members were informed that there were only three students who did not have Internet access at home and were given hard copies of material. Roger Hart asked how low of a grade level could the district go in supplying the technology.

“You could easily start with 5th graders,” Thieken said. “You put a piece of technology in a student’s hand and they can manipulate it. I don’t know that there necessarily is a cap on it.”

The students will be taking the Chromebooks with them to high school next year. The district will continue to explore funding possibilities to continue what is appearing to be a success story in using the new technology.

“As teachers can show the need for more one-to-one technology, the district will look to implement the initiative into other grades as resources are available,” said Thieken.




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