McHenry County schools becoming more tech-savvy this school year

Several school districts around McHenry County are starting to incorporate more tech devices into their classes to prepare students for the future.

This school year, Algonquin-based School District 300 rolled out a one-to-one initiative that gives every first- through eighth-grade student a Google Chromebook.

“We wanted to make sure we provide students with every resource possible to make sure they’re college- and career-ready by the time they graduate,” said Anthony McGinn, director of public relations and communication services for District 300.

Anne Pasco, director of digital literacy and innovation for District 300, said these devices are necessary because technology has changed the way students process information.

“Technology has revamped how we function at work, at play and how students learn,” Pasco said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”

For first- and second-grade students, the Chromebooks will stay in the classrooms to keep technology available only during class hours, while third- through eighth-grade students will be able to take them home on a limited basis.

“When you go one-to-one, there’s a misperception that you’re on your device all the time,” Pasco said. “And that’s not what it’s about. It’s about ensuring that all students have access to these tools so that we can utilize them appropriately to enhance their learning and reinforce their skills that we know are a necessity for the workplace.”

District 300 isn’t the only area school using more technology in its classrooms. When Huntley School District 158 students returned to school Wednesday, each student had a Chromebook provided by the district for school-use only.

“One purpose of this roll-out is to provide a more engaging educational experience to the students,” District 158 superintendent John Burkey said. “We want to increase student engagement throughout the day.”

Burkey said the district has been rolling out the Chromebooks to various grades since 2012, and now every student in the district will have one to use.

“We embarked on the process of going one-to-one four years ago, and it’s gone really well so far,” Burkey said.

Dan Armstrong, the director of communications for District 158, said the district started testing this initiative with a pilot program.

“It’s been a very involved process over the past four years,” Armstrong said. “We started with a pilot program at one our elementary schools, and we actually had a different tablet when we started this.”

The district fully implemented the technology by fall 2015 for kindergarten through eighth grade. Following that, freshmen at the high school also were given computer devices in the second semester. This year, sophomores, juniors and seniors will get them, too. Armstrong said that it’s not only important for students to learn how to use the devices, but it’s also imperative teachers know how to use them as well.

“We really worked with teachers, preparing them and training them on teaching techniques involving this new tool,” Armstrong said. “You can’t just drop a piece of technology into the classroom without preparing the teacher on how to use it.”

District 158 is spending about $200 per new Chromebook this year. Money that would usually go toward traditional textbooks and desktop computers went toward these devices.

In other examples, Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 already rolled out the initiative two years ago to some of its elementary students; and Fox River Grove School District 3 is planning to evaluate how its students handle the one-to-one initiative by launching a pilot program this year. District 3 Superintendent Dr. Tim Mahaffy said his students in eighth grade will be getting Microsoft Surface devices during school hours this year.

“Online learning is not just something outside the school anymore,” Mahaffy said. “It’s in classrooms now, too.”

While some may be concerned that the computers may be a substitute to the role of a teacher someday, District 158 superintendent Burkey said that is not the case.

“Technology is not taking place of the teachers, but instead it is transforming their role,” Burkey said.

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