Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

August 22, 2013

Tech leap back to school

Upgrades await students' return to class

By Dustin Luca

---- — Students returning to the classroom next week are in for a powerful shot of technology.

New technology awaits teachers and students in every building and at every level of the district following a sizable upgrade implemented over the summer, according to Joanne Najarian, the district’s new director of digital learning.

Project-based learning will travel leaps and bounds through expanded use of iPads and Apple laptop computers issued throughout the district, she said. The Annual Town Meeting in May approved funneling $218,300 from the town’s cable franchise fees into the annual computer and laptop replacement program to help fund the upgrades.

Najarian said the upgrades are akin to a familiar process that’s painful, but quick. “We took a very large Band-Aid and ripped it off this year,” she said.

“We’re moving forward really quickly, rather than little jumps,” she said. “It’s needed. We’re trying to get our kids to be college-ready and career-ready. To do that, we need to teach them at a level of understanding where they have technology in their day, every day, even in school.”

Over the course of the last few years, pilot programs have launched to test new theories in cognitive growth aided by technology.

Some high school classrooms have swapped out the oh-so-familiar textbooks for iPads running interactive, digital textbooks.

Meanwhile, others have given students the chance to dive into college-level content through the online Ed-X learning initiative.

Much of what was seen last year is back — but the reach and scope has been expanded, according to Najarian.

The tablet initiative, for example, has moved on down the line to lower grades.

“West (Elementary) this year, all teachers got an iPad,” she said. “The library got six. Some teachers got two or three, then there are three teachers that got classroom sets, and that’s through grant funding.”

Every school building will experience something new, Najarian said.

Gym classes in one building will now utilize technology like the Xbox Kinect to add an element of virtual reality to physical education.

At the high school, computer labs were eliminated over the summer.

In their place will be two MacBook Pro carts that teachers can sign out, Najarian said.

A new information technology help desk has been created at the high school that will tap students who are particularly adept at computers.

“They would assist teachers in troubleshooting all the new technology coming into their classroom, putting together little tutorials,” she said.

And visitors to all of the town’s schools will soon have access to wireless networks allowing them to operate their mobile devices from inside the facilities, according to Najarian.

A tech conference-style event will greet teachers on their first day back to the classroom this coming Monday.

The event will give Andover educators an overview of the new upgrades and how they can be incorporated into lesson plans.

It will also help prepare teachers for the arrival of students, who will join them in the classroom on Wednesday, Aug. 28.