Technology has caused a dramatic shift in thinking at Delta County schools. Where computers were once centrally located in the district's highly acclaimed tech labs, they're now in the hands of the students who come to school with iPads, iPhones, laptop computers, tablets and other devices in hand.
"We have gone from don't use your cell phone in the classroom five years ago to 'Please bring anything you have and all you have,' " said assistant superintendent Kurt Clay. "It's been a huge shift."
While students are discouraged from texting or making phone calls during classtime, they are using their phones and other devices for research, to complete quizzes, to access free apps and even to view "wikis" produced by their teachers. Tech-savvy teachers use wikis and apps to illustrate their lessons or demonstrate a concept. From their computers at home, kids can access homework assignments or watch how an algebra problem is solved, for example. There's no excuse for missing a lesson because of illness or a basketball trip.
"The tech labs will never go away, but what we do in the labs has changed," Clay said. It's all part of a shift to integrate technology into every subject. The content teacher is now also the tech teacher.
"The idea is to get technology into the hands of the kids," said Glen Suppes, assistant principal at Hotchkiss High School. "We're taking the tech lab and bringing it to the classroom."
Principal Mike Beard has made it a priority to bring an interactive, multimedia educational experience to every student at HHS. With a prudent use of financial resources, along with support from the Cocker Kids Foundation and the Bulldog Booster Club, the school has been able to purchase 115 iPads for use in the classrooms. Every teacher has his or her own iPad. That means teachers like Blake Carlquist can put together a lesson, then project that lesson on a screen through the use of Apple TV. Students can either look at the screen or watch the lesson on school iPads distributed from a storage cart. Carlquist no longer stands at the front of the classroom and lectures; instead he enriches history with colorful graphics, maps and videos, some of which he's produced himself. He also takes advantage of the incredible variety of apps available for teachers, many of which are free.
"Technology is a powerful tool, and it's making a difference with kids," Beard said.
"They are engaged," Suppes added.
From their desks, students can work out the solution to a problem on their iPads, then "mirror" the process for everyone in the classroom with the touch of a finger. They access quizzes, type in the answers and hit send. The results are compiled on a spreadsheet that Carlquist can access on his iPad. Advanced students are encouraged to create their own apps and wikis, or sit in on lectures offered through iTunes U. "The possibilities are endless," Carlquist said.
Beard and Suppes envision "one-to-one" technology, meaning iPads in the hands of every student. "We're about 100 devices away," Suppes said, "but we know our infrastructure is an obstacle to fully becoming a technology-enriched school."
Suppes estimates the school's current wireless system can run almost 300 separate devices. The problem is, he personally has three devices on his desktop, as do many of the school's teachers. Most students have cell phones, as well as a tablet or laptop, depleting more of the school's resources. At times, Internet slows to a crawl, Suppes said. But increasing bandwidth can be expensive.
"There's a cry for more resources throughout the district, but we need to be thoughtful about which direction we go," Clay said.
District administrators ponder the cost of textbooks ($75 to $150) versus the cost of interactive e-textboks (about $15 plus the cost of the iPad). While textbooks can be passed down from year to year, they're expensive to replace. An e-textbook cost far less, but it can't be transferred from the device where it was originally purchased. Yet e-textbooks offer features that excite kids about learning — videos that bring DNA sequences to life, for example, or tutorials that help students understand math concepts. Interactive books will read to kids or allow young students to record themselves as they're reading; when they come to an unfamiliar word, they can simply click on it for the definition. Language learning, painting, writing — technology has the potential to change every facet of education.
"We feel like we're rushing to catch up," said Connie Vincent, the school district's curriculum/instructional coordinator, "but I recently participated in a webinar about online CSAP testing and realized we're in the middle of the pack."
The state is adding impetus to the need to expand infrastructure throughout the school district — in 2014, CSAP tests will be taken and submitted electronically. Gone will be the days of distributing, administering, collecting and transporting a semi-load of test packets to Denver. More importantly for improving instruction, results will be available much more quickly.
Embracing technology can have its downside. Theft and abuse are two potential problems. Suppes proudly states he can account for every portable device at HHS. Clay points out theft is always a concern, but in a recent case administrators were able to track down an iPhone through an embedded GPS program. Many devices are equipped with similar tracking programs.
"The more technology you have in the classroom every day, the less likely kids are to take it because they have access to it all the time," Clay said.
When it comes to abuse — such as cyberbullying accessing inappropriate material on the Internet — Suppes said HHS has a zero tolerance policy.
"We will take the device away if an incident occurs at school," Suppes said. Outside of the school day, he encourages parents to contact law enforcement if they have issues.
"Our goal is to teach kids technology is a tool," Clay said. "Can it be used as a bad thing? Sure. A lot of things can be used as bad things.
"But technology is the wave of the future. The challenge for the school district to find funding for the infrastructure to make sure our kids have access to it."
"This is how kids think these days," he added.
"The kids are pushing the envelope for us," Suppes agreed. "We need to fully embrace technology and stop hindering them."blog comments powered by Disqus