SYCAMORE, Ill. — No paper, no pencils, no problem.
A pair of teachers at West Elementary School in Sycamore is changing the way their students learn by ditching notebooks for netbooks in a paperless classroom approach far different from the traditional mold.
Students in Katie Algrim's third-grade class and Jennifer McCormick's second-grade class work exclusively on netbooks, which allow them to transition seamlessly from math to English or any other subject while they learn at their own pace.
Algrim said the new tools have created flexibility for teachers and students that makes teaching for each student's needs easier. She said she can place specialized assignments in each student's virtual folder so a student struggling with nouns can focus in that area while a student who is excelling can work ahead.
"I'm meeting so many more of my students on an individual-need basis," she said. "They're surpassing what we thought they could do."
Algrim said students have shown more initiative with the netbooks. In one lesson, Algrim asked a student to compare the populations of two states and circle the larger number. Instead, the student pulled a picture of each state and increased the size of the one with the larger population to create a graphical representation.
That initiative is often evident in McCormick's second-grade class, where students are learning their way around Microsoft Word and other computer programs. She said her students are learning at a rate she has not witnessed during 19 years of teaching.
"It's lifting the floor and raising the ceiling," she said. "We're allowing our fast runners to go faster."
While students have transitioned to learning new material from audiobooks, interactive Scholastic magazines and other programs, the teachers have also faced a transitional period.
No longer are classes divided into reading, math and English with full-class lectures. Now, multiple subjects can take place at one time and lessons can be taught more spontaneously in small, focused groups, McCormick said.
"This is changing how the whole day is organized," McCormick said. "It's not just them consuming information. They're creating."
The change in classroom atmosphere came with concerns, but those worries have not manifested yet. McCormick and Algrim said there were worries that more time would be spent teaching students how to use the tools instead of focusing on the curriculum, but within the first week many students had surpassed the basic functions.
Another concern was a decrease in interaction among the students, but the teachers said the netbooks have increased interaction because the children will ask each other for help on how to use a program or solve a problem.
Caitlyn Grehn, a third-grader in Algrim's class, said the paperless classroom has been a great experience. One of her favorite aspects is the typing because writing for a long time hurts her wrist, she said.
"Awesome," she said of the netbooks. "It's one of the funnest things I've ever done in school."
The success of the program has sparked the possibility of expanding it throughout Sycamore School District 427, but barriers remain. The pilot program was funded through a $24,000 grant from the Sycamore Education Foundation, so securing funding for other classrooms could be a challenge, Superintendent Wayne Riesen said.
"This would have to be phased in over many, many years," Riesen said of the program, adding it would cost about $10,000 per classroom.
He also said it would have to be the teacher's preference because the district does not want to force educators into an alternative approach to teaching. McCormick and Algrim said parents and teachers would have an opportunity to observe the class in the future.
Information from: The Daily Chronicle, http://www.daily-chronicle.com