Digital devices are the new ‘textbooks’ in Amherst

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Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times
Ciara Cruz uses a Chromebook during math class at Amherst Junior High School. Digital devices are being rolled out this fall to every Amherst student.

JASON HAWK
EDITOR

When Ciara Cruz arrives at school each weekday, one of the first things she does now is grab her small notebook computer from the charging rack — just like every one of the 750 students at Amherst Junior High.

Kids pick up their devices in homeroom and log in at the start of each class, said Assistant Principal Rhonda Neuhoff.

It’s a change made earlier this month as the entire Amherst school district goes digital. By November, every child in kindergarten through 12th grade with have their own digital device to carry throughout the day.

We found the Google-made Chromebooks being used last week for a test in teacher Michelle Jagodzinski’s math class.

She explained how kids have started using Chrome Canvas, a drawing program, in place of whiteboards and taking advantage of extra practice questions available online.

Homework is assigned online and time is set aside each day for kids who might not have internet at home to tackle that work.

Yes, there are still paper worksheets to take home and students still have to show their work by writing it out. Jagodzinski said that isn’t going to change just because a new learning tool has been introduced.

But the Chromebooks have big advantages, said Neuhoff.

Teachers are making guided notes for their lessons; kids follow along and fill in the blanks, which means less time scribbling and more time for asking questions.

Devices help with organization. They mean fewer trips to lockers and less wasted time to grab forgotten materials, Neuhoff said.

Teachers also get a great deal of information, learning in real time exactly which problems are stumping students and which areas need follow-up instruction.

“This generation gets instant feedback with everything they do,” said Neuhoff. “That’s how they live” and so that’s how they’re taught.

Principal Joe Tellier said Chromebooks are being handed out to some 1,200-plus students this week at Steele High School.

Kids in grades nine to 12 will be the only ones allowed to take their devices home each day.

Tellier said digital devices don’t replace traditional learning techniques — they are simply another tool for teachers to use in the Digital Age. “We are going to treat them like textbooks,” he said. “They have the ability to turn each student into a walking computer lab.”

That applies outside the schoolhouse walls, too.

Assistant Superintendent Michael Molnar said a number of Amherst businesses have signed on to be “Future Ready” partners. They’re prepared to open their doors and their WiFi to students for after-school work.