Noblesville Schools expands 1:1 technology initiative to younger grades

By Mark Ambrogi

Noblesville Schools has been a trendsetter in the 1:1 initiative for computing.

During the 2013-14 school year, all Noblesville High School students were issued a district-owned iPad for learning. The students return the iPads at the end of the school year. This school year, Noblesville middle schools students also received the iPads. Hamilton Heights is the only other school district in Hamilton County with the program.

“We’re way out ahead of other districts in our area and other districts in the country,” said Marnie Cooke, Noblesville Schools’ director of marketing and communications.

The students rent the iPads for the school year at $70 for middle school students and $80 for high school students.

Christy Steffen, technology instructional coach for the secondary level, said engagement is up in all the classrooms.

Steffen said it has been a great tool for teachers to understand whether the students are understanding the subject matter.

“You get that immediate feedback whereas before you might have one or two students that might raise their hand and answer a question,” Steffen said. “Now you know what every student answers in class immediately and you know how to proceed immediately. Is it just one or two that don’t get what we’re doing? Is half the class that doesn’t get what we’re doing? We can adjust instruction on the fly.”

Kelly Geisleman, seventh-grade social studies teacher at Noblesville East Middle School, said it has been a great help.

“I think I’ve been so much better able and equipped to reach all of the unique needs of all the students in my classroom,” she said. “Not everybody has to learn the same thing at the same time. As a result, I’m better able to meet students’ abilities and their needs. I’m seeing huge growth and positive feedback from that.”

Geisleman was one of three middle school teachers who ran a pilot program during the 2013-14 school year.

“I think the transition was really smooth,” she said. “I think everybody was well-prepared, especially with the professional development.”

Geisleman said students are checking their own grades and e-mailing when there are questions.

“Students are taking much more initiative in their own learning as a result of the iPads,” Geisleman said.

Andrew Swickheimer, Noblesville’s director of technology, said the biggest message to parents is explaining how the students are using the iPads.

“If it is opening up a new experience or they are engaged in a rich experience using their device, that to me is a lot different than if they are just watching a movie or playing a game,” Swickheimer said.

Swickheimer said the iPads’ purpose is to enhance critical thinking and collaborate with others.

“There’s been a lot of research that shows the return on investment on technology in school,” Swickheimer said. “It’s actually a net gain for the school district when you look at all the factors involved. When you look at the research, it shows that it is revenue positive.”

The iPads also allow parents to have more access to the learning process than they have ever had before, Swickheimer said.

Swickheimer said before the decision to implement the iPads program, the school district conducted research and surveys.

“We found 95 percent of our homes had Internet access or some kind of device at home,” Swickheimer said. “We had feedback about going 1:1 and our community was very much in favor of it.”

Steffen said one of the reasons they chose to issue a device from the schools is so all the students would have the same device.

“And there wouldn’t be those inequities with the device,” Steffen said. “A lot of students might have a laptop or computer they can share at home but they don’t have their own device, which definitely at the secondary level was something that was important.”

Swickheimer said the computer technology is seamlessly integrated throughout the day.

“When we were in school you had your teacher and textbook and that was it,” Swickheimer said, “Now you have the entire Internet.”

Tech team provides support

Noblesville senior Sonu Dhillon has been a tech team member for about two years.

“It not only benefits the people coming in for help, but it’s benefitting the people behind the help desk,” said Dhillon, one of 21 tech team members. “I’ve learned so much more about communication skills and problem solving ever since I’ve been on the tech team. It really helped me learn skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned.”

Dhillon said it helps the peers to talk to another student when they have an issue regarding technology.

“You make them feel you’re helping them fix the problem themselves and you’re not just fixing it for them,” he said.

First grade pilot program

Mitch Mosbey’s Promise Road Elementary first-grade class students have their own iPads to use in the classroom during the day.

“They are not just using apps that are games, but they are actually explaining their learning and sharing that learning with others,” Mosbey said. “Whatever they’re learning, they can put in a video to share with their family and their classmates. While it’s going to look a little bit different, they are able to do things that are similar to what the upper grades are doing.”

Mosbey’s class received the iPads on a grant through his elementary school’s Parents Teachers Organization. His first-grade class is the only one using iPads on a 1:1 basis.

“We have a four-to-one students-to-device ratio in all of our elementary school classrooms,” Swickheimer said.

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