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Published: Monday, 3/11/2013

Ottawa Hills laptops pondered at forum

District seeks 1-to-1 laptops for students

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ottawa Hills Local Schools officials are still debating a one-to-one laptop program for students in grades 7-12 after the second of two public forums on the proposal last week.

Parents gathered to hear seven panelists, including teachers, parents, and educational professionals, discuss benefits and caveats of upgrading classroom technology. The district is weighing whether to expand its laptop cart service or establish a one-to-one laptop program.

Jim Gunner, superintendent of Sandusky Perkins Schools, said instructors’ resources would be tested with implementation of a greater technology program and that starting out by giving staff members laptops can help execute the plan.

“You can’t do enough professional development,” Mr. Gunner said. He said his district’s program has exposed students to “things outside the four walls of Sandusky.”

At Sandusky Perkins Schools, the one-to-one program was done all at once, instead of in increments, and 30 teachers were trained on using the computers in the classroom.

“... Technology is embedded in what we do at Perkins,” he said.

While hearing examples of how programs have been successful at other schools was a highlight of the panel, fellow panelist Joyce Stengle, an Ottawa Hills parent, said she has seen firsthand how having improved technology has helped her older daughters. Ms. Stengle has three daughters: one attends an Ottawa Hills school and two attend St. Ursula Academy. St. Ursula has a one-to-one laptop program.

Ms. Stengle said the devices, namely MacBooks, have helped her daughters go above and beyond the scope of an assignment.

“It’s just amazing how easy it is for her to put a presentation together. She makes movies all the time for class,” she said, about her daughter. “I think it has enhanced their learning quite a bit. The quality of the work is professional. It gives her the tool to make a perfect project.”

Mr. Gunner said being able to look up information on the laptop can help students succeed. “The power of the learning, that’s all available by technology. It’s powerful to see,” he said.

Despite many positive attributes, during a question-and-answer session, a few parents had comments about negative aspects. One parent was worried about how some students may be behind in utilizing the laptops, especially if they aren’t familiar with using similar equipment at home.

Some parents said they would want support from the school to block sites that could distract students in class and at home.

Bill Miller, a junior-high language arts teacher at Ottawa Hills, has used laptops in his classroom and said that distractions can be an issue, but there are ways to remedy concerns.

“It requires certain ground rules,” he said. “You simply have the student close the laptop.” He said in the past, when students are in the classroom working on the laptop, he has them turn their desks, so he can see their screens. Monitoring their activities online helps them stay on task, he said.

School districts put filters on the computers, Ms. Stengle said.

“As a parent, I like the filters,” she said, adding that common social networking sites can be blocked and technology administrators have the power to shut down a student laptop at anytime.

Ottawa Hills district Superintendent Kevin S. Miller encouraged those in attendance and community members to fill out a survey on the district’s Web site, ohschools.k12.oh.us, to help further determine whether to implement the program. The survey is available until Thursday.

Contact Kelly McLendon at: kmclendon@theblade.com or 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.



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