TWIN FALLS — A laptop for every high school freshman. More iPads. Classroom sets of Chromebooks.
Those are some ways Magic Valley school districts are upgrading classroom technology this school year.
Many are buying iPads and laptop computers to help facilitate student learning and help children become prepared for technologically-savvy workplaces.
“For the last several years, we’ve been investing in a lot of technology,” said Ashley Johnson, student achievement director for the Minidoka County School District. “It prepares students for life outside of high school.”
Minico High School in Rupert is trying something new this school year: providing each freshman with an HP laptop computer.
The school district spent about $97,000 on the devices using voter-approved supplemental levy money. It plans to continue the program in future years with each incoming freshman class.
Each of this year’s 256 freshmen is assigned a laptop, which they use at school and home.
“They are responsible for taking it home and bringing it back to school charged every day so it’s ready to use in their classes,” Johnson said.
Minico freshman Megan Graf, 14, said having a laptop helps her do better on homework and with making sure she turns in assignments.
“I like having a laptop because we’ve had iPads since fifth grade and last year we used laptops quite a bit,” she said. “Now, we get our own and we don’t have to share it.”
Megan types notes in class instead of writing by hand. That saves time, she said. And in a couple of classes, her teachers post resources online to help students study for quizzes.
At the end of the school year, students will turn in their laptop for maintenance. Then, students will receive the same laptop back next school year.
Minico High used to have mobile carts with laptop computers shared among classrooms. But school leaders decided students needed to have access to technology in every class.
Another project: Improving wireless internet access at the school, which Johnson calls a “work in progress.” It can be a challenge in older school buildings such as Minico, built in 1955.
At Minidoka County elementary schools, there’s an additional 360 iPads this school year, purchased using state technology money. Another 150 iPads were paid for using state literacy money.
Middle schools added 40 new iPads, class sets of Chromebooks — which are small laptop computers — and a cart with HP laptops.
Here’s an overview of how five other school districts are upgrading classroom technology:
The Twin Falls School District will receive about $400,000 in state technology money this school year.
During the recession starting around 2009, the district stopped its technology spending. Now, it’s getting caught up on replacing desktop computers on a rotating schedule.
But now, there’s a real shift toward mobile devices in classrooms, director of operations Brady Dickinson said. Over three years, the district has been purchasing more Chromebooks.
About half of this year’s technology money went toward buying 30 classroom sets of Chromebooks, for 600 total. It’s similar to the number purchased last school year.
Ideally, the district wants to have one mobile computing device for every student. Currently, the ratio is nearly two-to-one.
But Bickel Elementary School has a tablet for every student, thanks to a 2014 grant from the Idaho Department of Education. And Bridge Academy, an alternative middle school, also has one device per student.
Kindergarten through third-grade classes typically prefer iPads because they have large icons and touch screens, Dickinson said. Higher grade levels often prefer Chromebooks.
Two new elementary schools — Rock Creek and Pillar Falls — have an unusual feature: closets wired as charging stations for electronic devices.
Julie Warner, a fifth-grade teacher at Harrison Elementary School, received a school district grant for a classroom set of Chromebooks. It’s the third year her students are using them.
Students use the devices to practice reading skills, do research for social studies and science, read passages and answer comprehension questions, and for writing assignments.
They also use Google Docs to share their writing virtually with their teacher and classmates, and to collaborate on editing. And they create presentations using Google Slides and turn in assignments through Google Classroom.
Having a classroom set of Chromebooks gives children more exposure to technology than going to a computer lab once a week, Warner said.
The biggest benefit she has seen: “There’s a higher level of engagement from the students.”
In the Kimberly School District, new computers have been ordered for four computer labs, Superintendent Luke Schroeder said.
The current hardware is seven to nine years old, making it difficult to run newer programs and take online state standardized tests.
“Technology is really hard to stay on top of because it is ever changing,” Schroeder said.
Kimberly school officials are trying to come up with a direction for how to use digital tools in classrooms while protecting student data.
Schools already have some mobile computing devices, such as Netbooks — a type of laptop computer.
This school year, the Cassia County School District bought 300 additional computers and eight classroom sets of Chromebooks. Each year, it spends about $500,000 on school technology.
The Hansen School District will receive about $34,000 this school year in state technology money.
Money will go toward increasing wireless Internet access points at the elementary school, upgrading security systems, and upgrading technology and projectors at the junior high/high school.
School officials plan to purchase a mobile Chromebook lab with 30 laptops. Plus, each seventh through 12th grade teacher will get an allowance to spend on classroom technology that best meets their needs.
Schools now have Chromebooks for some math classes to help with implementing a math intervention program. The high school already has one mobile computing device for every student.