District 97's 'Paperless classroom' concept taking shape

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Longfellow kindergartner Julia Legler looks very much at ease with her classroom iPad.

She and other students are using them on this day not for play but for learning. Legler's assignment is to take a picture of something using the classroom's iPad and then spell the object out on the device.

F-L-O-O-R is one of the words Julia correctly spelled.

Kindergarteners like her have been using iPads in Oak Park's elementary school District 97 since fall 2011. All eight elementary schools received the devices for kindergarten classroom instruction. It was a district initiative, designed to get these devices into kids' hands to accelerate their learning. And it's one more step toward the district's "paperless classroom" vision and concept.

Actual writing, which is still taught to some degree in the younger grades, isn't going away entirely, says D97 Supt. Albert Roberts.

But D97 is looking to use technology more with students and teachers, Roberts says.

The paperless classroom is one aspect of the district's overall technology plan. Implemented in 2010 just before he arrived as superintendent, it's since been revised under Roberts' tenure.

Improving technology in the district was a highlighted goal in the district's 2011 tax hike referendum campaign, which was approved by voters.

Prior to 2011 and since, the district has upgraded much of its technology. It's bought such items as smart boards, LCD projectors, new computers, smart books and laptops. In 2011 — year two of the five-year plan — the district purchased 200 iPads for kindergarten classrooms. The tech plan overall was estimated to cost around $4 million. An additional $5 million in new tech spending was called for via the referendum.

Roberts, a former classroom teacher and principal, sees technology replacing much of the paper and writing work students have long done. That trend, he insists, is not a bad thing.

"Kids will still need to learn how to write. That's not going away. But kids are more creative and imaginative than just with paper in hand," he said.

District administration later this month is expected to submit a recommendation to the board concerning more tech upgrades and improvements for the district. The paperless classroom concept is already taking shape.

Students are using video for some classroom projects and assignments rather than simply writing or typing them out. Roberts sees that trend continuing. For instance, pecking out pages and pages for a term paper, he says, may not be the best use of the students' time in the future.

"The real goal is to help them become excellent communicators and very literate; to be productive in the work that they do. We know kids are not going to be working everyday and every hour with technology, but to use it in a way that makes them engaged and to work collaboratively," Roberts says.

D97 has already reduced much of its "paper trail" in recent years.

The weekly, big bundle of fliers, notices and other school-related information sent home to parents was ditched a few years ago. They were replaced with the "digital backpack," a web-based feature on the district's website (www.op97.org) with links and PDFs with all that information.

The paperless trend extended to the school board's activities.

The bulky board packets were replaced with an electronic "board book" on the district's website, featuring agendas, minutes and links to reports.

As for students using their own smartphones for instruction in class, Roberts is open to that possibility. Other school districts, he noted, have policies stating specifically how and when students can use their phones on campus. That's something D97 administration and the board would need to work out, he said.

Classroom teachers also have their own web pages with assignment info. The teachers are also trained to use the technology themselves before using it with students, says Julie Mullen, one of D97's tech specialists who work with faculty.

Parents, she adds, are mostly supportive of the district's efforts to reduce its paper trail. The digital backpack was in fact a response to parents' complaining that the weekly packets should be replaced with something electronically.

The technology, according to Mullen, is helping engage parents as much as students.

"It lets them see what their kids are doing instead of just having it on paper," she said.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Posted: February 6th, 2013 7:54 PM

I find it curious that the leaders of technology eschew technology. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 And D97 LOVES to chase technology at taxpayers expense.

Preschool parent  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 12:09 PM

Uncommon, I share the same concern. My son is going to live in a world totally dominated by technology. But, still, at 6pm the tv gets turned off and we read good, old-fashioned (non-electronic) books. But, as a parent given the choice, I lean towards computers. That's his future success, not pen and paper.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 11:39 AM

An over reliance on technology can have its down falls. While I think kids should be exposed as much as possible, they also should be forced to master the basics without technology. Doing basic math calculations without a calculator and using pen and paper. Spelling without autocorrect. Learning to write more than one sentence with pen and paper. God forbid the power goes out... then what? Ever seen kids these days try to make change without using the cash register?

Donna Pones from Oak Park   

Posted: February 6th, 2013 11:23 AM

The importance of the computer in the daily lives of individuals is obvious. Ms. Wouczyna is inovative in teaching this methodology to her students. More teachers ought to follow this example.

Carrie Marling Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 10:51 AM

Enjoyed this article - and not just because I'm a fan of the digital learner pictured! I appreciate having the ability to share the progress of assignments given to my D97 & D200 kids in real time via Google.docs. I am little worried about their dependence on spellcheck but of course, I do lean on it too. As a parent who has volunteered over the years with efforts to make our schools greener - sometimes actually weighing the amounts of trash being generated - moving toward paperless makes sense.


Posted: February 6th, 2013 9:33 AM

@Observer your critique reminds me of the Straight Dope "paper towels vs. hand dryer" debate. Paper towels generate "35 percent more acid rain and 286 percent more greenhouse gas emissions" than using electricity for hand dryers. Same thing here. Paperless classroom is greener. If you're mad about the power, advocate for more solar and wind. lol


Posted: February 6th, 2013 8:55 AM

There is no mention of the environmental costs of a paperless classroom which OP normally discusses when making decisions. Data centers that power the electronic classroom waste 90% or more of electricity. This does not take into account the infrastructure needed to support the electronic classroom or the toxic components that are used to make technology. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/technology/data-centers-waste-vast-amounts-of-energy-belying-industry-image.html So much for OP being Green


Posted: February 6th, 2013 8:45 AM

We have had first hand experience with Ms. Wouczyna's technology instruction for our children and we are so impressed! She has done an incredible job of integrating new technology with fundamental learning concepts for our children. In sum, she makes learning fun. She is a wonderful teacher!

Mr. Agon from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 8:27 AM

Technology in the classroom sounds progressive but there are dangers. Computer models can infiltrate how we think we should *think*--by choosing btwn a reductive "x" or "o" binary, by consulting drop-boxes with pre-programmed choices, by reducing the complexity of a response to a simple thumbs up. Not good. Writing is about imagining possibilities. Too much reliance on technology can limit the imagination.

Preschool parent  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 7:04 AM

My son already loves to play and learn on an iPad and laptop with typing, drawing, and using the mouse. This is so great to look forward to! It's good for the environment and helps our kids be proficient with the technology they will need to master to stay ahead.

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