Tech purchase allows students to see, not just hear, when they learn

Just try teaching kids in science class about plate tectonics like teacher Judy Jones does at St. Francis de Sales in Chicago. Say the words lithosphere or continental drift and watch 30 pairs of eyes glaze over, she says.

 But use a video projector with images off the Internet showing the actually plates slide underneath one another and suddenly you hear students say, “Whoa,” accompanied with a lot of jaws dropping, she says. 

“When kids pay attention, they learn more,” says Jones, who’s a biology and earth science teacher at the school. “Some of these concepts are hard to explain, but when you show them, that’s when you get that light bulb moment from students and you can see them, thinking, ‘Now I get it. I understand.’” 

That’s what has been happening more often in Jones’ classroom this year, since the co-ed high school received about 30 computers, most of them from an anonymous donor. 

Now every teacher has a laptop and every classroom has at least one desktop computer for the kids to use. 

The school spent $55,000 rewiring classrooms for the new computers and making the four-story building Internet accessible throughout. Also, it got a backup server, three Macintosh computers for the art department to teach graphic design, and eight video projectors. 

None of it would’ve been possible without money donated to the school. In total, the school received about $145,000 for its technology improvements fund. 

The bulk of the donation came from one person, who wrote a $120,000 check to the school.

The donor wished to remain anonymous, says Rick Hussmann, president of the high school. While the school has received hefty donations from time to time, this one stands as one of the biggest. 

The donor was contacted by school officials through the Chicago Archdiocese. Apparently, he’d given large sums to other Catholic schools before to improve infrastructure, Hussmann says.

 “We were told this guy is out there and he had helped other schools.” Hussmann says.

 It was fortunate for the school that one of the largest donations ever made came along when it did. Without major private donations, projects like this one are unlikely to get off the ground, Hussmann says.

 School officials had long wanted to bridge the digital divide with students for some time, but didn’t have the funding to make its vision a reality. 

But the money came with a stipulation that the technology plan had to be approved by the donor. It got the green light and the school got the money last spring, but began this fall implementing the program. 

Also, there were smaller donors as well, some contributing about $10,000.

One business, Agri-Fine, Inc., donated $3,000, Hussmann says. 

The next component is staff development. While some teachers like Jones are computer savvy, some of the older instructors are still less comfortable with it, but they’ll learn, Hussmann says.

 Jones said the computers have already made her life as a teacher much easier.

Instead of rushing off to the computer lab, which was one of the only places in the building that had Internet access, she now can simply sit at her desk and whip off an e-mail on her laptop to a parent about a student. 
Attendance on the laptop has made grading easier since it’s now done on a computer instead of writing it down as the only method of grade accounting, she says. 

But the teaching method has been the biggest gain. Before when she need the use of a visual projector with a laptop connected, she’d have to check out the equipment and usually there’d be a waiting list. So, showing kids scientific concepts happened about four times a semester. 

Now she uses it about every day, she says. 

“When I teach cell division for many students, it’s hard to understand what a cell looks like,” Jones says. “But when they see it on a huge big screen they can actually see it happening, it’s more real to them.” 

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