When sixth-grade teacher Shelly Drake asks her students a question, some grab a pencil and paper while others reach for their electronic gadgets. That's just fine with Mrs. Drake.
It doesn't bother the teacher one bit that one of her students is typing on his iPad, another has a netbook out on the desk, and two other students are using their iPod Touch to write notes.
"This is real world, and they use it [technology] when they see fit," said Drake, a teacher at Woodland Elementary in Brooklyn Park.
Welcome to the Osseo School District's pilot program called Project Copernicus, a cutting-edge approach that allows and encourages students to bring in and use their own mobile devices in the classroom.
"What we've seen is some great examples of teachers being flexible and allowing students to kind of make some decisions for themselves about what kind of technology will work best for them," said Tim Wilson, the district's chief technology offficer.
As long as the mobile device is wireless and able to connect to the district's wireless network and has web-based applications, students are free to bring in whatever device they want, and it's up to each student to decide how and even if they want to use that technology in the classroom.
"They see the possibilities better than I do," said teacher Shelly Drake. "At first I thought I'm going to have to design every lesson to incorporate technology, but I thought how can I do that when I might only have 3 kids out there with it [mobile devices], so I've realized I don't have to be the designer, it just comes naturally to them."
Initial concerns regarding inequity among students who can afford devices and those who cannot have also disappeared. Drake said in her classroom there was some initial novelty about particular devices but the kids see that they're doing the same thing whether it's on a laptop or a sheet of paper, so it becomes less of an issue.
"Frankly some kids who have them at home choose not to bring them," said Wilson. "And some families who don't have a lot, they might have a device."
While the district has thousands of its own computers, the ratio is still about four to five students for every one computer, so Wilson said another advantage of the program has been providing more direct access to technology for all students.
"It's kind of a win-win situation for everybody," said Wilson.
Alexandra Renslo reporting
Tuesday, November 30, 2010