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Holy Cross teacher Laura Knapp discusses the school’s plans to begin moving to a technology-based curriculum at the Mendota school. Fundraisers at the Catholic school are purchasing Kunos tablets programmed to push curriculum to students with the eventual goal of phasing out traditional textbooks over the next year. Students in the background still take tests with paper and pencil, but the new technology will eventually replace traditional learning materials.
MENDOTA — Students at Holy Cross School in Mendota can plan to lug the textbooks around for a little while longer, but those days are numbered, principal Anita Kobilsek said. The private Catholic school has embraced technology in the classroom already but the next step could move all curriculum to an Internet-based cloud technology. “We were talking about integrating technology and upgrading,” Kobilsek said. “We were researching, getting prices and there were so many things you can do with the tablets without the expense of computers.” While a computer and a SMART Board are common in classrooms throughout the state, the transition to tablets marks another technological leap for students at Holy Cross. Laura Knapp, a teacher at the school, said most classrooms will retain textbooks but she believes they will be phased out over the next year as more teachers and students adapt to the tablets. “Our hope is to get our curriculum put onto the Kunos,” she said. “We’re able to push the information from the cloud to each device.” The Kunos tablets look similar to other tablet computers but these are made for education purposes only. They do not come with an internet browser or any software that is not expressly put on them by the teachers. Kobilsek said teachers can load their daily curriculum to an Internet cloud storage space and then select which applications will be pushed to the students’ tablets. The applications can be temporary for research in a particular unit of study and then removed later after the work is complete. The specialized tablets cost $500 each and the school also purchased keyboards and secure storage carts that double as recharging stations to be used with them. Tablets will be issued to each student in grades 5-8 while children up to grade 4 will share tablets, Knapp said. “This will be nice for kids who are sick or on extended vacations,” Knapp said. “This way we can send (assignments) electronically.” The school first decided to move to a more electronic curriculum with the introduction of the Common Core standards and the increasing need for technology-fluent students as they move from school to careers. Kobilsek said many textbook companies are either phasing out hard copy textbooks or placing larger amounts of supplemental curriculum online. The Kunos tablets will allow teachers to selectively push appropriate materials to their students. The material can include other applications available on the Internet but students will not be able to download anything from outside the curriculum cloud. Cloud storage is used by many companies and individuals already. Instead of saving data to a local computer hard drive, the data is stored offsite in a third party server. The data is then available to anyone with the correct log in and password information. Teachers can then share student data, receive immediate updates and stay connected through the computer network as they collaborate on projects. The school first started planning the transition more than a year ago with fundraisers scheduled to help buy the new technology. The school now has the equipment and Kobilsek said they are scheduling training sessions with Curriculum Loft, the company providing the materials. Kobilsek said the school has made some adjustments to the building’s existing wireless Internet connections and the anticipated iFiber access should give the classrooms even greater access to the Internet. Web-based seminars on calibrating and then navigating the Kunos tablets should wrap up soon, Kobilsek said. Then teachers will train on the new technology before introducing them to the students. The 130 students already anticipate using the tablets after working with the school community on numerous pancake breakfasts and spaghetti suppers. The teachers field almost as many questions about the new electronic curriculum as they do on standard assignments. Kobilsek said the Holy Cross community as well as the community at large has been supportive and generous as the school transitions to electronic classrooms. Once the tablets are in the hands of the students, Knapp said teachers would start the process of moving curriculum and assignments to the Internet cloud. Eventually, students in the upper grades will be able to take them home to complete their work independently. Kobilsek also anticipates that but she’s more hesitant on when the transition will be complete. Web trainings, hardware and software issues have created a few bumps in the road and Kobilsek anticipates there will be more to come. Delayed training sessions, rescheduled web seminars and even an Internet outage have been among the setbacks so far, she said. They initially hoped the tablets would already be in the hands of students by now but those delays have slowed the process. Nevertheless, “we’re excited,” remains the catchphrase in the halls and classrooms at the school.