That’s when the high school biology teachers researched FlexBooks and presented their idea to Arjona. With the help of a grant, the district purchased classroom sets of the Samsung Series 7 Slate PC to use with the FlexBooks. Arjona praised the teachers’ “ability to think differently” and innovate.
Most students use the Slates, although GCS operates a “bring your own device” policy and lets students use their personal devices if they would like.
Because FlexBooks are customizable, GCS deleted certain units and added others to its biology FlexBook, including a unit on biotechnology, based on Kansas state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Though the final NGSS have not yet been approved, “that is what’s coming, and we have to be forward-thinking,” Arjona said.
On the district’s intranet, teachers use Sharepoint to update their personal teaching pages with links to biology labs and lessons. This has boosted staff collaboration, Arjona said, because teachers ask one another for lessons focusing on specific topics and share their favorite labs.
Students and teachers often take field trips to the nearby Konza Prairie Biological Station, where they use the Slates, along with Vernier probeware, to conduct experiments and record observations in the field. Arjona said the devices’ portability, and their integration with Vernier’s probeware, allow students take full advantage of the tools.
Though the district faces socio-economic challenges, Arjona said most students have internet access at home. Those who don’t frequent local restaurants, the public library, town learning centers, and the high school’s library, which is open after school hours.
So far, bandwidth availability has not been a problem. Kansas has operated online assessments for a number of years, and district IT staff are used to accommodating large numbers of students online at a time. The district plans to expand its FlexBook program to ninth-grade physical science classes next year.
“It’s much more interactive and engaging,” Arjona said. “We have to treat our 21st-century learners differently—we cannot expect them to operate in the same manner that older generations did in the classroom.”
Follow Managing Editor Laura Devaney on Twitter at @eSN_Laura.
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