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AURORA -- Bent under the weight of too many tomes, students not so long ago filled backpacks with textbooks, novels and binders full of papers and folders.
Beginning in sixth grade, Aurora students no longer shoulder this burden.
At Harmon School and Aurora High School, students are each leased a Chromebook for three years, said Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli, adding they use them somewhat the way adults once used textbooks.
"It gives every student access to a basically unlimited amount of information," he said. "Kids can do a lot of learning on their own, accessing information from all over the world using the internet."
He said students are encouraged to take Chromebooks home for homework and to continue to explore topics at home that interested them during the school day.
Aurora also is using money it once spent on textbooks to purchase online sources, said Ciccantelli, and some of the same companies that used to sell textbooks are offering online sources. In some cases, he said districts can purchase textbooks with additional online resources.
He said using the internet compares favorably with using a 5- or 6-year-old textbook that may have been published a couple of years before that.
"Today, something that's seven years old is really old, so outdated," he said.
Ciccantelli said teachers help provide students sources of reliable information.
"There are some ways for teachers to help kids find areas that are more vetted," he said, adding InfoOhio is one source that provides a gateway to reliable information on a variety of topics.
But he said students also should learn to distinguish reliable from poor sources of information.
"As you know, with all the sources, determining which are more trustworthy is a significant skill today," he said.
Ciccantelli said Aurora's students are immersed in technology, with their own gmail accounts and access to all Google's office applications, which includes spreadsheets, word processing, presentations and even a website creation program.
"Teachers and students spend much of their time with their Chromebooks hooked up to the internet," he said. "Even in science, there's new content being created daily."
Cicantelli said the upper grades haven't yet become paperless, but they are headed that way.
IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Hiram College President Dr. Lori Varlotta said the school recently received a gift of $2.1 million from Dean Scarborough, Hiram class of 1977, and his wife Janice Bini to launch the school's Tech and Trek Initiative, which will place in the hands of every student and professor an iPad Pro (along with an Apple Pencil and keyboard).
Varlotta said faculty at Hiram recently spent several days learning about apps. She echoed Ciccantelli's view that students will learn more on their own with professors (or teachers) serving as guides.
"These iPads will really be a powerful tool in the classrooms where students are participating in a flipped classroom," she said.
The idea of a flipped classroom is one in which the professor (or teacher) does not simply lecture to students, but provides a guiding hand in learning, she said.
"They use the classroom for small group work to formulate arguments and do research," she said.
She also said having texts and sources on the iPads should help save money that would otherwise be spent on books.
Varlotta said the iPads will give professors the ability to solve one perennial problem with group work -- the tendency of one or two students to carry a group while others coast along getting credit for someone else's work.
She said iBooks enable a group of four or five students to share a single interactive book.
"They can use the iPads to highlight passages," she said, adding different students can use different colors to mark passages they find exciting or sections they don't understand. "The interactive ebook allows faculty to track right along on his or her screen. The notion of in-class dynamics is going to change. Now, teachers are going to have a very clear idea of who's doing what."
Varlotta said she hopes students will use the iPads to help create multi-media journals of their experiences abroad.
"Students can use it as a learning device to record what they're seeing and feeling," she said. "It just lends itself so beautifully to being an electronic journal. It's just so different than writing in a blue book."
Varlotta said she believes the iPads may help in the science lab as well. Students who used to have to document flora and fauna found in the fields surrounding Hiram now can simply snap a photo.
"I think its power outside of the classroom in these very high impact learning experiences will be very powerful," she said, noting students can even post demonstration videos of experiments, she added.
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