Vestaburg Community School begins 3-year tablet initiative


By Robin Miller • Last Updated 12:50 pm on Monday, April 16, 2012

Pupils in Jody Vissman’s fourth grade class read eBooks at Vestaburg Community School. — Daily News/Robin Miller

VESTABURG — Twelve teachers at Vestaburg Community School received Android tablets for training purposes as part of a three-year plan to provide one-to-one technology to the district’s 700 students.

About 220 tablets will be purchased during each of the next three years, starting this fall with 220 Asus Transformer TF101s.

The three-year initiative — projected to cost $36,000 per year — will be largely funded by the district’s general fund account with utilization of federal grant monies.

“I am very blessed that our board took a stand to invest in the future,” Vestaburg Superintendent Jeff Beal said. “Tablets are much more than a tool or a shiny piece of technology. They represent a turning point to not simply integrate technology into a lesson, but to build bridges for students to interact with their learning, to inspire them and to prepare them for a world of tomorrow.”

Staff training

Beal consulted with colleagues from around the state in an effort to train his staff and provide them with the best opportunities to be successful. Classroom visits are being made to several west Michigan school districts, including Greenville, Allendale, Hopkins, Kentwood, North Muskegon and Zeeland.

Preschoolers do math puzzles and letter recognition on tablets in Karen Gostomski’s class at Vestaburg Community School. — Daily News/Robin Miller

The staff’s Tablet Initiative Team meets twice a month to discuss capabilities of the tablets, share ideas, concerns, and needs and train each other on specific applications. In addition to this learning community, Yammer.com, an online blog, displays various technology uses in classrooms.

“Our staff and students will be ready to teach, learn and grow on a variety of platforms using a variety of devices,” Beal said.

Safety and maintenance

Vestaburg Community School entered into a shared service agreement with the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) in the fall of 2010. The MAISD technology team will be fundamental in the deployment, training, servicing, ordering and maintaining of equipment.

The devices will stay on school grounds during the first semester of 2012-2013. As students and staff become more integrated into the program, tablets will go home on a regular basis.

District insurance and warranties cover damage; however, students will be responsible for loss or theft of the devices, much like a textbook. Parents may buy insurance to cover damage risk to the devices.

Students who use the Internet on campus must push all content through school filters.

“It is worth noting that no filter is perfect and new sites come online every day,” Beal said. “As we are teaching our students how to interact and use technology for their future, it is equally important that we teach them how to be safe on the Internet and what to do if they find themselves in places they do not belong and don’t want to be.”

Classroom computing

Tablets are small, lightweight computers capable of wireless access to the Internet or school network.

“Tablets are the next generation of personal computing,” Beal said. “Use of tablets offers unique opportunities to meet the children where they are and individualize instruction. Our students will be taking adaptive tests throughout the year to determine where their skill levels are strong and areas where we can foster growth.”

A host of personal devices already are used in classrooms daily, including Android tablets, iPads, iPods, Kindle Fires and multiple other smartphones.

High school students in Kerry Krzymicki’s sociology class access myriad websites to expand classroom learning at Vestaburg Community School. — Daily News/Robin Miller

Several WiFi access points are located throughout the school. Middle school and high school students will be online in every core area next year.

Preschoolers in Karen Gostomski’s classroom are learning to recognize basic letters and sounds and develop early math skills on tablets purchased by the district earlier this year.

Fourth grade students read eBooks, take photos, videos and voice recordings and use the district’s wireless Internet.

“Having technology at my fingertips allows me to better utilize my class web page and links for students,” said fourth grade teacher Jody Vissman.

Technology played a big part in the sixth grade class this year with the creation of more interactive science fair projects.

21st century skills

A tablet can provide an instant replay of the school day to allow students to review material, such as digital copies of notes or a video of the teacher’s instruction.

“Tablets can provide opportunities to capture lessons with video and the ability to ask questions, not only of the teacher, but of peers and coaches throughout the district through blogs, such as Yammer, Wiki’s and Moodle,” Beal said. “Students can flip their own classrooms, taking the lecture home where parents can interact with the instruction and then bring questions back to the school where teachers can facilitate the discovery of solutions.”

Beal believes use of technology helps students develop 21st century skills to help them succeed in today’s world.

“The days of ‘Turn to page 86 in your textbook’ are behind us and our staff will more and more be reaching out into the greater world around us to pull in resources for our students,” Beal said. “Classrooms no longer have to be limited by the four walls around us, but are capable of spanning the globe.

“I credit the board of education for their support of the program, the teachers for their enthusiasm to learn something new and inspire their students, and I credit the administrative staff for their vision to see the future of public education as an opportunity to inspire and connect with our students and their learning in whole new way,” Beal added. “I would be remiss if I did not credit the students with their appetite for knowledge as they dig into this new and exciting way to interact with their learning.”

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