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One for Every Child

Teacher Tara Dzirbowicz puts a number on a projector screen for her fifth-graders: 0.75. Their task: write two other numbers with the same number of digits, one higher and one lower.

Magic Johnson – yes, that’s his real name – writes 0.85 and 0.32 with his finger on a laptop touch screen, then compares answers with his desk mate, Sophia Mauric.

“Very, very good,” Dzirbowicz tells her Parkside Elementary School class after reviewing their answers. “You guys, you’ve got this.”

Tara Dzirbowicz says the devices encourage her students to collaborate and create

Her students are getting math answers, as well as writing personal reflections, each with his or her own computer device. That’s thanks to the $76 million bond passed by Rockford voters in 2014, which provided $15 million for technology upgrades. With that funding, the district recently finished rolling out devices to all K-5 students at its eight elementary schools — iPads for K-1, laptops for 2-5.

Students in grades six through 12 also are planned to have devices next fall, with a pilot program at the Freshman Center this spring.

For teachers like Dzirbowicz, all students having devices helps in everything from emailing them assignments at home to opening up new vistas of learning.

“Having the opportunity to explore the world outside of our classroom on a computer has enhanced my lessons greatly,” she said, adding the ability to take their computers home has “evened the playing field a little bit” by giving all students equal access.

‘The creation tools we have are endless.’ – Teacher Tara Dzirbowicz

Whether it’s collaborating on a Google Doc by commenting on one another’s writing, or learning to write computer code, their personal devices are getting students more engaged, connected and motivated, she added.

“The creation tools we have are endless. The kids are preparing for the real world,” she said. “We’re reaching all different learners, wherever they’re at.”

Research Shows Multiple Benefits

Providing personal devices for all students emerged as a top priority after the district conducted 17 pilot projects over the past two years, said Ryan Kelley, assistant superintendent for instruction. Research shows many benefits of a 1-1 device program resulting in increased achievement, Kelley said. They include:

  • Improved student attendance, behavior and engagement;
  • Better meeting students’ needs by individualizing instruction;
  • Increasing technology skills to better prepare students for college and career;
  • Enhancing skills such as collaboration, creativity and problem-solving.

In Dzirbowicz’s class, students start the day by typing a reflection on their Lenovo ThinkPads. On a recent morning they wrote about good things that had happened to them, and used Roget’s Thesaurus to describe their feelings while marking the birthday of Peter Roget. Callan Reickard said their writing exercises teach them punctuation and to use “actual sentences, not LOL and hash tags and stuff.”

In math, students could use either the keyboard or flip it over as a tablet to perform the exercises. Students said they liked having that option.

“I like how we have touch screens, so then we can do multiple functions with it,” said Parker Middleton. “Whenever we’re writing, I like how we can just use the keyboard.”

Sophia likes her device for very practical reasons.

“I like how we can take it home, because usually my sister’s on the computer,” she said. “So I don’t have to wait for her to get off to do my homework.”


Raising Good Digital Citizens


All students at Parkside Elementary and other Rockford elementary schools now have personal devices

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.


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