The Ottumwa Courier

September 19, 2013

Compact computers help Cardinal kids

Courier staff writer

---- — ELDON — It's bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a laptop. And students in the Cardinal school district like the "tablet" computers the district began distributing a year ago today.

"The Kunos are a lot smaller and easier to [carry] around," said Zack Steele, a freshman who has been using a school-issued computer device of one sort or another since he was in sixth grade.

Before the Kunos were handed out, he and his classmates carried laptop computers. At Cardinal of Eldon, students in grades six through12 take their computer devices home with them. Superintendent Joel Pedersen said the contract for the Apple computers had expired, and so the district took the opportunity to update technology.

The new tech has advantages.

"I came from a district that had MacBooks, and the only way students there can get articles [assigned by the teacher] is to get on the Internet before they leave school and download it to their computer," said Jeremy Hissem, the sixth through 12 secondary school principal. "But here, teachers can 'push out' articles or videos to 30 students at once. It takes about a minute."

Having everything they need on one medium-sized device means students whose families don't have Internet aren't left behind.

"They have the [information] at home," said Hissem, "or on the bus coming back from an away game, even if they don't have Internet."

When in locations where they do have Internet, students can use email, search engines or direct suggestions from the teacher.

"They can put links to where they found the original material," Zack said.

That way, students who want to know more can follow the teacher's tracks, seeing exactly where an assignment came from.

Nathan Yeager, a Cardinal junior, said sometimes, just working on an assignment can trigger a student's curiosity. In districts where students aren't as connected, there's not very far they can take their new enthusiasm.

"If it interests you [in Eldon], you can get on there, look it up. Otherwise, you're limited to what the textbook tells you."

Hissem said he sees students chasing information as they travel the Worldwide Web.

"I've gone into classrooms where I've seen teachers posing a question, [like for history], 'Give me an example of this, find an example of where this occurred.' It's amazing how engaged the kids are. The search ... is exciting to them. They could share something no one else is going to read. These Kunos, when used well, can increase engagement."

As soon as students enter his classroom, secondary level math teacher Jay Olson instructs kids to use a program on their tablet.

"It's an assessment and a review for what we did yesterday," he said.

The assessment and review is just four questions that remind the students of yesterday's work and allow Olson to see whether kids are "getting it."

They work on the four questions "as I'm taking attendance. I can look at who is on what question, who is getting questions correct and how the whole class is doing."

Principal Hissem said there's a movement in education to do what they call formative assessments.

"You can make an informed decision [on what to teach]," he said. "We're always checking along the way to see if kids are learning what we want them to learn."

If the whole class understands the chapter perfectly, that's great, the teacher just moves on to the next lesson. If the whole class seems lost, the teacher knows to put more focus on that chapter before moving on.

"It shows up for each individual student, with names," explained Olson of the assessment and review quiz, "so if nine out of 10 students are getting it, I can ask that 10 percent to stay after class a few minutes to explain it to them."

So is all this tech use going to hurt students when it's time for college or the work place? Actually, they said, the opposite is true.

Nate said he's already spoken to people in the business world about which operating systems are best (business tends to use Microsoft or PC applications, he's been hearing). And Mr. Olson has spoken to college students attending a university in Iowa who tell him their professors are doing some of the same things Olson has students do in Eldon.

"To keep the kids as up to date as possible in the 21st century ... our staff here at Cardinal is taking risks every day to challenge themselves and their students," said Hissem.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark