Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fourth grader at Harbins Elementary School Ashleigh Steedley, 10, and her mother Crystal, use their iPad to complete a math project during the school's instructional fair called Bring Your Own Device, "BYOD" in Dacula Thursday. The parents experienced how devices such as computer, smart phones and tablets can enhance their children's learning experience.
DACULA -- Using a tablet in class makes perfect sense to 10-year-old Ashleigh Steedley.
For one: "It's way easier to just push a button and take a screen shot than it is to write something down ... it saves time. That's time you can use for research or studying," said Steedley, who spent Thursday night with mom, Crystal, showing her the ropes of an Internet browser on her iPad.
Hundreds of others like the Steedleys visited Harbins Elementary as part of a special BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) event at the school aimed at getting parents more familiar with new technology in the classroom.
As one of only 33 schools in the district taking part in an eCLASS pilot program, students at Harbins Elementary are allowed to bring in their own tech devices to use in learning activities.
Funded by the most recent iteration of the education special purpose local option sales tax -- which voters approved in November 2011 -- eCLASS (Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System) was part of planned technology upgrades earmarked in the ballot language.
While all GCPS facilities will eventually use eCLASS, 33 schools in the district are piloting the initiative. They include classrooms in the Archer, Berkmar, Duluth, North Gwinnett and Shiloh clusters.
Steedley counts herself lucky to be a part of the pilot program, as does her classmate Dayne Biehl, 9.
Biehl and his aunt, Dawn, sat side by side Thursday as fourth-grade teacher Trisha Connor walked them through an educational exercise. With ease, Dayne finger-swiped his way through the activity, while his aunt followed along on her smartphone.
"This is new school stuff," Dawn said, laughing. "I guess I'm just old school.'Added Dawn: "I was in fourth grade back when Kennedy was shot ... you could say it's been a while. It's way, way different."
She said that when she buys a new device such as a tablet, she takes her time, unfolding the instructions, reading them carefully, "while Dayne's got it out and he's already using it."
Dawn said such technology "is just easy for him to understand."
The idea behind BYOD night, said teacher Trisha Connor, was making it understandable for the parents, too.
"When the parents come in tonight, we're modeling some of the things we're doing during class," Connor said. "If a parent can come and experience this, we hope it will help bridge the technology gap."
"After all," Connor said, "the world these kids are going to grow up in is not going to be a textbook world. It's going to be a digital world."
Harbins Principal Cindy Truett agreed.
"Using these devices in the classroom has been a natural progression for the students," Truett said. "But because we didn't grow up with anything like this when we were kids, it's hard to imagine what it would look like in the classroom."
Added Truett: "Parents may think, 'Well, I'm sending this device to school with my child. What are they going to do with it?' We want to be able to show them."
Because not all students own or can afford tablet devices, the local PTA helped raise money to purchase several dozen loaner tablets for children at the school to use while in class.
Using their tablets, students can tap into a digital "cloud" which is used to teach math, science and foreign language skills. Over the course of three to five years, officials with the school district have plans to fully incorporate eCLASS for all students in Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Using eCLASS, student work can be reviewed, graded and returned without the need for any paper to exchange hands. Digital content is housed by the school system. However, students will soon be able to access "external cloud" libraries like NASA and Georgia Tech to tap into further content.
"Pretty cool," said Ashleigh Steedley. "It's a new way to learn. It makes sense."
For more information about eCLASS, visit www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us.