More than 3,000 middle and high school students booted up the new school year with personal iPads and Chromebooks through either an ongoing corporate grant or by planned digital expansion at the secondary level in Spring Branch ISD.
Double that figure in just a few more weeks when 6,000-plus secondary students in SBISD will have been issued personal digital devices. District leaders and Board members in a recent workshop meeting committed to expanding device roll outs in the future across all secondary schools, based on campus readiness.
At Spring Woods Middle School, students were greeted by a “tunnel of applause” on the first day back, Aug. 16, as staff, an instructional specialist and volunteers with the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) program greeted returning teens on their first morning.
On Monday, Aug. 27, more than 800 students there will be issued new iPads for a second year under a continuing $1.6 million VILS grant serving several SBISD middle campuses.
Through the grant, all students and teachers at Spring Woods, Northbrook and YES Prep Northbrook middle schools have access to top-quality, digital learning tools, for 24/7 use at school and home. Northbrook Middle’s traditional school and its co-housed YES Prep program will be issued iPads on Sept. 6.
“It’s very inspiring for teachers to plan their class lessons knowing that everyone has the same access to technology,” said Kendra Mathis, who is an instructional specialist and VILS digital learning coach at Spring Woods Middle. “The students today are digital natives – many of them understand or know technology better than teachers and other adults. We need to prepare these students for a world that will look very different than our own.”
“The iPads make it so easier to work in class together. There are applications for math and for all kinds of different instruction,” said Jem Flowers, a student Tech Team member at Spring Woods Middle who helps students and instructors solve common iPad technical issues.
“With everyone having the iPads, educational use is much more consistent and easier, I think,” she also said.
Earlier this week, more than 1,600 Chromebooks were received by Memorial High School students at all grade levels. Planning for the digital expansion at the school has been in the works for several years, said Christina Masick, who is the district’s chief information officer.
Memorial High students have the option of a district-issued Chromebook, or may bring their own laptop or other digital device. About 700 students, many of them in upper grade levels, will bring their own device, known as BYOD, which remains an option across the district alongside the digital expansion plan.
Memorial’s students received the Chromebooks during their English class period. Teachers called out student names, students came forward and received devices, and then technicians helped students get set up. For those needing more help or detailed instructions, special attention was available in the school library.
In a similar device roll out, Spring Woods High students will receive Chromebooks on Oct. 1. Separately, Spring Branch Middle School students receive iPads soon in a non-grant program similar to other middle campuses that will support personal learning.
The digital expansion is a key element of SBISD’s journey to personalize learning, Masick and others said. Students learn differently, and they are often at different levels, Masick said, but it’s difficult to equip a regular classroom with all types of media to meet every need. Instructional and related support materials can all be stored online, she said. Digital devices give students access to such material.
Campus-wide devices support educational equity, too. “VILS has helped to close the digital learning gap in Spring Branch by giving children access, and also giving them data to use at home. Our families now have access and information at their fingertips, and families can better support their children at home,” Patricia Kassir, district coordinator of personalized learning, said.
She notes that digital devices like VILS’ iPads directly support four key pillars of personalized learning – individualized, rigorous instruction; anytime, anywhere learning; multiple measures of data; and student “voice” and agency.
Cody Rice, technology applications teacher at Spring Woods Middle, manages the 20-student Tech Team that helps service and solve iPad issues. Digital device use has helped improve student learning, in his view.
“Students are able to use productivity tools and applications in all their classes to increase their communication and presentation skills. Integrating technology into the classroom is a way to differentiate instruction, encourage individual growth, and increase student engagement levels,” he said.
Spring Woods Middle eighth-grader Roxanne Rodriguez, one of Rice’s Tech Team students, said it’s as simple as having a desired learning application on all devices and ready for all to use.
“Before, you often had to download applications or other things onto your phone, but not everyone had a phone and not everyone had phone service. Having iPads for everyone makes it faster and more efficient,” the Tech Team member said.
New: Listen to SBISD's Shaping Spring Branch podcast series: