INGLESIDE – Stephanie Kaye and Michael Dean watched as a pair of students shut down their tablets and carefully returned them to the magnetized stack of tablets on a cart at the front of Dean’s eighth-grade classroom.
The two educators work at Gavin South Middle School, teaching eighth-grade English language arts and social studies, respectively. After learning that a grant for computers had been awarded to two other teachers, Kaye and Dean decided to team up and raise their own funds to buy tablets to share between their classes.
They reached out to friends, family, local businesses and the community at large for donations, no matter how small.
“We actually had a former student – she’s a freshman this year – who saw it and donated $10,” Kaye said. “But that’s more than some of our neighbors gave. And you know she probably had to work with her mom – she didn’t have a debit card or a credit card to do it online, but she figured out a way and she threw in $10 for us.”
In a matter of a few months, they had successfully raised roughly $7,000 – enough money to buy 20 HP ProBook x360 Notebook PCs. To help them reach their target 25 tablets, the school provided the remaining five.
Now, after months of anticipation, the tablets have finally arrived, and both teachers and students are eager to begin working with them. Dean said the students will be working with Google Classroom, part of Google’s G Suite for Education platform. The platform offers educators and students free productivity tools to assign, distribute and submit class assignments that can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.
“We think it’s gonna be really nice because you know they love working on a screen of any kind, right?” Dean said. “So by having [the tablets], we think our homework completion will be much higher than it has been and they’ll be much more invested in what they’re working on.”
Because the tablets are going to be shared between the classrooms, Dean and Kaye are taking the opportunity to “team teach.” They’ll modify some of their lesson plans to create projects in each individual class that will complement the other.
“We had talked about doing a lot of team teaching and we really got excited about the idea of doing it because language arts and social studies really go hand-in-hand,” Dean said.
Dean and Kaye aren’t the first teachers at Gavin South to provide tablets for their students, although they are the first teachers to raise money privately for them. Classes in fifth and sixth grades already have integrated tablets into their classwork. Gavin School District 37’s new superintendent Dr. Julie Brua said plans are in the works to provide tablets for every class in every grade.
“We’ll really be reaching out across the district in terms of [providing more one-to-one devices],” Brua said. “We’ve already been budgeting and planning on that to move forward next year.”
Eighth-graders are particularly excited about using the tablets to help prepare them for the transition to high school. Google Classroom is a staple feature of most high school classes now and eighth-graders are relieved that at least one aspect of high school will be familiar to them at their new school – a fact Kaye said was wisely promoted during the fundraiser.
She adds that the former Gavin student who donated to their cause did so because she wished she had a tablet in eighth grade.
Students in Kaye’s and Dean’s classes are just now beginning to use the tablets. The first day was spent establishing Gavin email addresses for the students and setting them up in the virtual classrooms on Google Classrooms.
Students are excited about how the tablets will change their classes and learning experiences.
Fourteen-year-old Miranda Rodriguez said she’s watched her older brother using Google Classroom as he works on his high school homework and said she’s excited to be able to use it herself. Part of its appeal is its accessibility and having all her work in one spot.
“It’s not just what we’ll learn. I just really look forward to getting stuff through the computer because I could easily go on my computer at home and access [Google Classroom],” she said.
Rodriguez’s classmate Izabella Berreles said that while she’s used tablets and Google Classroom before, she’s excited about how much easier staying organized will be.
“It’ll be easier,” she said. “Like, say, if I lost something, I could just look [at Google Classroom] to see what we’re working on. It’ll be easier. Because what kid doesn’t have a laptop these days?”