Kettering and Beavercreek schools are using $12 million in state grants to buy computer devices for most of their students, West Carrollton is upgrading its Wi-Fi network, and Springboro is converting to some online textbooks in grades 6-12.

Schools say the changes can help increase student performance, save money in the long run and make students more comfortable with online learning and testing.

Kettering City Schools this year received an $8.3 million grant from the state’s Straight A Innovation Fund. The money will be used to upgrade library media centers this year, give each student access to a Google Chromebook or LearnPad tablet next year, and gradually increase distance-learning options with Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton.

“Shoot for the moon was exactly what we were thinking,” said Dru Miller, Kettering’s director of instructional services. “We put together a wish list of, ‘What do we think would have a strong impact on student achievement in this district?’ ”

Miller said when each child has a device to use, a teacher can assign an interactive lesson appropriate to one group of students, while the teacher works with others who need help on another skill. Upgrading the library media centers will mean one set of students could be teleconferencing with a Dayton Metro Library librarian, while another group does online research and others work with the library specialist on-site.

Miller said some Kettering teachers have successfully piloted a “flipped classroom,” where the students watch a lecture-type presentation online at home in the evening, then do homework problems the next day in class, where the teacher can provide hands-on help.

That approach may grow next year, as high school and possibly middle school students get to take their Chromebooks home. Miller said that greater access — along with a plan for longer school library hours and online tutoring help from UD student teachers — will help level the playing field for families who don’t have a computer or internet access.

Chris Merritt, acting technology director for the district, said a key to success will be staff training, which is already under way.

“Our teachers need to begin to learn how to unleash the potential of these devices,” Merritt said. “How do you use them as instructional tools, and do it the right way? We aren’t going to be throwing devices at people and saying, ‘Here you go, you’re on your own.’ ”

Fairmont high school junior Trevor Ginsberg said some Kettering teachers still stick to textbooks and “old-school” methods right now, but he likes gaining new skills. His English class worked on a collaborative assignment in Fairmont’s high-tech 21st century classroom Friday. Ginsberg said his U.S. history class was heavy on online research, while his choir class reads “sheet music” off iPads.

Varied approaches

Not every district is deploying technology the same way. Springboro has moved to online textbook access for English, math and foreign languages in grades 6-12. The district allows students without internet access to check out devices from the school, and the schools published a list of all free wireless access points in the area.

Superintendent Rusty Clifford said West Carrollton schools will finish making high-speed wireless access available at all school buildings this spring so that approved students can use their own computer devices.

“Instead of just making a huge purchase and hoping it fits everyone’s teaching style … our focus is on the effective use of technology in the learning environment every day,” Clifford said. “If kids are just bringing technology into the classroom and doing the same thing they’ve always done, but on a mobile device, what’s that about?”

Dayton Superintendent Lori Ward said her district has piloted an online curriculum at one school to help students catch up who were behind in credits. She said Dayton has looked at a bring-your-own-device-to-school policy, but is currently focused on adding and upgrading computers in preparation for this year’s new online state tests.

Beavercreek’s kindergarten through eighth graders will use their iPads 20 minutes a day, three days a week in both math and reading. One student’s iPad might be loaded with lessons on addition and subtraction, while another student in the same class might be learning multiplication, depending on their level and pace.

“All of our kindergarten through eighth grade students take assessments based on the Common Core standards using the iPads,” said Susan Hayward, director of curriculum and instruction. “The findings from these assessments are used to develop a curriculum specific to each student.”

Alter High School was ahead of the technological curve in 2011, when it began giving incoming freshmen Netbook computers to keep, with the cost included as part of tuition.

Beth Budd, Alter’s director of technology, said it’s important to get teachers and staff comfortable with the technology. Teachers start off with different ability levels, and getting all staff up to a baseline level is a hurdle.

Both Merritt and Budd said it’s hard to project how school technology will grow in five years because it changes so fast. Budd said the Chromebooks that are so popular now didn’t exist five years ago. Even three years ago, there was no such thing as a cell phone with a screen large enough to edit on.

“You want to position yourself so you can make good decisions for the future, but still be liquid enough so that you can modify those decisions as technology changes,” Budd said.

©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)