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Local News

District 58 parents head into classroom for digital learning

Downers Grove School District 58's emphasis on digital learning has extended beyond the classroom, with parents picking up tips on how to use iPhones, iPads and other devices to enhance learning.

DOWNERS GROVE — No matter how astute the student, many parents of young children will say, when it comes down to homework versus “Angry Birds”, it’s really no contest.

But — as a Downers Grove School District 58’s technology facilitator told a roomful of parents last week — it doesn’t have to be.

Kristen Olsen recalled a friend’s elementary student, and how when he could not get past a level in the iPhone game, she talked to the student about the angle, force and trajectory of the flying bird. Suddenly “Angry Birds” became a rudimentary physics lesson, she said.

“That’s one of the highest skills our children can do is analyze,” Olsen said. “If you change your mindset, it’s not wasting an hour playing a game.”

Of course, Olsen added, no educator would recommend “Angry Birds” as an educational tool, but that basic approach was at the heart of the message to District 58 parents at the Jan. 23 forum, where educators at District 58 and the Downers Grove Public Library teamed up to teach parents how to use smartphones and tablets for everything from students’ homework to family scheduling.

As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous — and often distracting — in students’ worlds, parents can harness it as a tool by enhancing, rather than replacing, the time spent on iPhone, laptops and the Internet — by focusing on “creation” over “consumption,” said the district’s technology director Scott Meech.

Instead of consuming music, videos and other media, set students out to interact with their devices, he said.

“It’s really focused on creation — producing,” Meech said.

The forum comes as District 58 ramps its own focus on electronic education and curricula — with the Apple TV digital network and an iPad in every classroom and more tools for teachers.

Now, administrators are trying to bring the same emphasis for when students are outside the classroom.

“Parents frequently ask, ‘Is there something we can do?’” said Matthew Rich, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Technology,” specifically smartphones, tablets and cloud technology, “happened so quickly on families that they haven’t had the chance to say, ‘Oh, this is how it creates more efficiency.’”

Last week’s forum was the first of three planned for this semester, and District 58 administrators intend to hold more in the long run.

The forum began with a broad overview of the district’s approach to technology, after which parents broke off into smaller seminars on a half-dozen topics.

Olsen’s session on iPhone’s education applications had one of the larger turnouts.

With hundreds of thousands of smartphone application out there, Olsen said, it is hard to recommend the perfect one to suit every student.

Instead, she pointed parents to online resources — websites like, and — where educators rate apps and give their seal of approval.

“The biggest thing is, if you’re giving your child an app, make sure you’re talking about them,” she said. “It’s not necessarily, ‘Oh, there’s an app for that’ — give your child a challenge.”

Chad Purcell of Downers Grove was one of the parents at the session looking for a way to make the iPhone more educational. The session was helpful, he said, and he plans on attending the next one in February.

With two daughters at Fairmount School, Purcell wanted to find tools and games that could make studying math more fun.

“I think that’s where the kids are going to get the most bang for their bucks,” he said. “Anything that makes math fun is worthwhile.”

District 58 has two more digital learning forums planned for parents this semester. The next is at 1 p.m. Feb. 19, and another will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 18. Both are held at the Downers Grove Public Library, 1050 Curtiss St. For more information, contact technology director Scott Meech at

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