Chrome computers present golden learning opportunity

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Flashy computerized classrooms haven't always equaled higher learning. One Indianapolis school district is changing the equation.

Teachers say new personal tablets and a new approach to using them adds up to students learning more.

At Pleasant Run Elementary School, the way teachers tell it, there's educational gold in small chrome-colored computers.

Danielle Phillips insists they've transformed her class - a remarkable claim. "Yes, and it's true," she said.

Warren Township schools spent well over a million dollars, giving every student in grades 1 through 12 a tablet. The seemingly impersonal computers provide what educators call "personalized learning."

"I'm seeing strength in students in a whole new way I've never seen before," Phillips explained. "My struggling students are no longer struggling."

The computer and its software adapt to each student's individual needs. Fourth graders racing ahead get challenged instead of bored. Students catching up find help instead of frustration.

Even when Phillips isn't moving from desk to desk answering students' questions and scanning computer screens, she can track their progress her own computer or smart phone.

"I can grade their writing, read their writing, comment on their writing, on any device as it happens," she said.

The technology isn't new, but the approach and implementation is.

In the past teachers, were often handed computers and told to put them to work in the classroom. This time is appears Warren Township schools did a lot of homework ahead of time.

Assistant Superintendent Ryan Russell summed it up.

"The bottom line is we're talking about what to our students ultimately need and building everything around that," he said, instead of the other way around.

If students are goofing off, letting fingers and minds wander, teachers see it on their laptops. Can they straighten them out, say "knock it off" and get back to work?

"I have done that," Phillips admitted with a smile and proving once in for all teachers really do have eyes in the back of their heads.

Warren Township schools are taking their first steps with personal computers. They have big ambitions, like virtual field trips or teaching students based on their ability, not their age. Tablets could allow smart 6th graders to take 8th grade math. The real test for the computers will be how students score on ISTEP and other assessment tests.