Streetsboro -- The Streetsboro City Schools have wireless Internet access, thanks to an anonymous gift to the district worth about $300,000, said Technology Director Steve Cain.
The gift was eight Cisco 4510R enterprise level network switches, he said. Although the district was planning to go wireless soon, anyway, Cain said the gift has allowed the district to make the change earlier and for less money.
Cain said the wireless network came on line Aug. 23.
"The entire cost of the necessary hardware and engineering for the campus-wide wireless project was just under $45,000, in contrast to last year when I looked at making just the high school wireless, and the cost was proposed at $62,000," he said.
The switches enable Internet data to flow through the district's network, he explained.
"The best example I can use, is that it directs traffic," he said. "Whenever you plug [an ethernet cable] into wall, somewhere on the other side of that wall is a network switch."
The district does own some network switches, but they are inferior to the donated ones, he added.
"The difference between them, I can put into car terms: One's a Yugo; one's a Ferrari," said Cain. "The new switches are much faster. The switching speed on them is just remarkable compared to the ones we were using. Currently, the connection speed on these is 100 megabits, which is still faster than most schools do, but the new ones are 10 times that."
With the change in technology, teachers have a new technological tool with which to deliver lessons.
Maureen Haska, the district's technology integration specialist, said wireless Internet enables teachers and students to carry tablet PCs, iPads, laptops and smart phones around the classroom while staying connected to the Internet, which she said is a huge change.
"Teachers who are using iPads are absolutely thrilled," she said. "They don't have to worry about moving from place to place. Moving the equipment around is really great."
With wireless available, she said, "students are bringing a lot of their own devices in."
Using computer labs was the status quo before the wireless Internet was available, she said, and planning around their availability was difficult for teachers. Sometimes, she said a teacher may try to sign up for a lab a few days in advance only to find it's booked for the next three weeks, so her plans for that project are delayed or canceled.
Haska said the district isn't yet to the point where it assumes all students have either a tablet or laptop, but it's getting closer to becoming a reality. One of the other benefits of the wireless connection is that students who don't have Internet at home can come to school to work on projects on their own devices.
She also said teachers who don't plan to use tablets, phones or laptops on a given day can just tell students to place their devices in their bags.
"If a teacher decides they don't want to have devices in their class, they can say that," she said.
But with the district's embrace last year of Google's office software, email, calendar and other tools, more teachers are using technology regularly, she said.
"In Google, teachers can make comments on papers," she said. Students, who all have their own gmail accounts starting in third grade, can email and interact online with teachers and classmates, and collaborative projects become easier.
Cain said the district also is using mobile labs of Chromebooks, which are laptops with the Android operating system installed that work seamlessly with Google's suite of software and have access to most of the same Android apps available to Android phones.
In one class, students are doing an environmental science project on Pinterest, said Haska.
"The student creates a board based on criteria given to them by the teacher," she said. "And because it's Pinterest, the kids don't 'boo' it to start with. The teachers are trying to find the tools that work for the kids."
In the past, if a group had to do a project on the computers in their regular classroom, it was very difficult because crowding resulted, said Haska. All five desktop computers are lined up along a single wall, so group projects meant squeezing 25 students along a single wall. Now, with wireless access, they can use the whole classroom, and each group can sit at their own table.
Cain said wireless Internet makes those uses of technology in education "more flexible" and has enabled teachers to consider an entirely new set of tools in their lesson plans.
"When you reignite a teacher's passion for what they do, that's wonderful," he said.
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