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Board hears school technology plans
May 03, 2013 · Ann Gruber-Miller


Representatives of the three Mount Vernon schools presented their new technology plans for the next two school years to the school board at its April 8 meeting.

They requested funding for one or both years for new iPads and laptops for the elementary school, one-to-one iPads or similar devices for the middle school, and computers for the high school.

The schools propose that students use technology in their classes throughout all the grades to enhance curricular learning goals and to help students develop 21st Century skills.

Students would learn in elementary school how to use computer tablets and laptops and would use them at learning stations to improve their individual skills in the Iowa Core curriculum, while teachers would be working with groups of students.

In middle school, students would build on the computing skills they have already learned. They would have their own, school-owned iPads or other portable devices to use for learning Iowa Core curricular goals including skills, research, collaborating, presenting reports, and creating with graphics programs.

In high school, students would use computers and software specific to the various subject areas. The computers specialized to subject areas would be housed in computer labs and on shared carts, so they would be available for all students to use to learn the Iowa Core curricular goals and do projects in the subject areas.

After the board discussed what they would need to consider in order to fund new technology for the schools, superintendent Pam Ewell directed the three technology teams to get together with school business manager Matt Burke and technology director Shawn Driscoll to figure out what the district can fund from the plans.

Ewell reported at the April 22 board meeting that Driscoll, Burke and board member Paul Morf are working to put in a phased-in approach, which Ewell said "looks like it might work best now."

Morf reported that the group is "hoping we could implement something for next year if we want to, so we will keep working on it." He noted that by 2016-17 the district will have paid off the school energy loans, so more school sales tax funds per year will be available then.

Technology teams

To form the plans, each school's technology leadership team worked with teachers in their school over the past year to conduct pilot projects and plan ways they would like to use technology to enhance instruction. The elementary school technology plan was written and reported on by Nannette Gunn (instructional curriculum coach and technology integration specialist at the elementary school) after surveying and meeting with elementary teachers.

The middle school plan was written and reported on by the middle school technology team - Mount Vernon middle school principal Bob Haugse (leader) and teachers Lori Moss (fifth-grade literacy and social studies), Michelle Boyden (eighth-grade language arts), Kim Steele (sixth-grade social studies), Susan Maurice (seventh-grade science) and Mark Benesh (middle school art) - which drew up the middle school plan in consultation with all the middle school teachers.

The high school technology plan was written and reported on by the high school professional development leadership team - Jan Henik (science), Mary Young (math), Erica Ledger (Spanish), Suzette Kragenbrink (teacher librarian), Shannon Reisinger (alternative education coordinator), JoAnn Gage (language arts and journalism), and Steve Brand (Mount Vernon High School principal) - which developed the new plan through more than a year and a half of work that included a survey of all of the high school teachers, as well as conversations with them following a technology conference that all the staff attended this past fall.

The school board last spring tabled a middle school request for one-to-one use computer technology and asked teachers in the three schools to do more research and testing on how and what types of technology would benefit their students.

Elementary requests

Kindergarten, by 2013-14: 15 additional iPads (for a total of four per classroom); for a cost of $10,000. They are currently sharing four iPads between five classrooms. Teachers would like students to use iPads at stations in their classrooms to support learning of Iowa Core Curriculum skills such as "math skills, handwriting skills and foundations of reading." Gunn would set up programs on the iPads that support such skills.

Grades 1 and 2, by 2013-14: four laptops per classroom (for a total of 20 laptops); for a cost of $26,000. Teachers would like students to use laptops at stations that they could rotate through to learn objectives from the curriculum while the teacher works with other students in small groups. Gunn said this set-up would enable the teachers to "meet the diverse needs of students while maximizing the learning going on with the others at the same time. They really want this badly, and need it to do their jobs effectively." Gunn would work with the teachers to bookmark sites that support curriculum learning objectives.

Grades 3 and 4, by 2014-15: two student laptops for each third and fourth grade classroom for stations (total of 10 laptops per grade), plus one cart of 25 laptops to share for each grade (total of 50 laptops on two carts), for a total of $48,000 per grade (total of $96,000). They currently have carts of laptops shared by the classes, resulting in the laptops being available to students only at limited times. They would like to have laptops at look-up stations in their classrooms for students to use throughout the school day like encyclopedias used to be used, as well as for projects, so students could "learn, research and present stories and information to others, as well as to enhance learning of targeted classroom skills."

Elementary Art, by 2014-15: one student laptop station for research as a resource tool for art, for a cost of $900.

This school year, students at the elementary school have been using MacBook Air laptops in a technology class once a week to learn where letters are on the keyboard, read stories, learn math, support subject learning, do computer graphics and practice mouse skills (kindergarten and first grade) and also to learn proper fingering and increase their typing speed on the keyboard (second through fourth grades).

Gunn said, "I anticipate that to be a huge benefit when they go to middle school and continue to do word processing."

She said these pilot projects have gone so well this year that the teachers "are chomping at the bit to have computers in their rooms" so that they can use them more often to teach students even more.

Gunn reported that the need now is to have "computers available in the rooms for learning stations. This way the technology can be used to support learning. The purpose behind technology is not that technology is an end in itself, but rather a means to become lifelong learners - as a normal part of classroom routine."

Middle school

requests

Grades 7 and 8, by 2013-14: one iPad or similar computing device per student (one-to-one), with the specific platform and price still to be determined. Students could take the device home during the year until they finish eighth grade.

Grades 5 and 6, by 2014-15: one portable computing device per student (one-to-one), with the specific platform and price still to be determined (Tablet/Chrome Book/ iPad/MacBook Air) to be integrated into their learning in their classes. Students would leave them at school.

Moss said that the middle school teachers would like to implement a one-to-one program of one laptop or other computing device for every middle school student. She said this option would have the advantage of integrating technology with the content areas. It would create a career track, maximize instruction time, open the door for creativity, foster constant interaction, develop 21st Century skills, and increase student responsibility by having to take care of a computer that is theirs.

Benesh said that every student having a laptop/tablet/iPad would improve the immediacy of information in their classes because students could have it at their fingertips. He said that students having laptops would also improve student engagement and efficiency of classroom usage by not having to have down time traveling to and from a computer lab. He said that for art, laptops would open up "tons of opportunities" with video, graphic design and digital art.

Steele said that if the school could get iMacs consistently to the students, she could help both the lowest and the highest two to 17 percent grow with technology instead of having to continue to just shoot for the middle as she does now. She commented that "in life we don't have separate subjects. With technology we can do geography, science and literature together, and students can do this in other grades and carry it into business to work together."

To support the new technology plan, during summer 2013 the teachers would visit with and talk with local school districts and write Mount Vernon's policy. During the 2013-14 school year teachers would be given more professional development through sharing with each other, visiting other schools, and students sharing. Parents would have information nights on subjects such as a safe computing and laptop waiver/checkout, and they would do a parent evaluation of the program, perhaps at mid-year and end-of-year.

High school requests

Young said the technology team "felt it was important to allow high school students to experience a variety of platforms and devices, as well as provide the teachers with the technology teaching tools they need to teach their specific content." She said their goal was "to make a variety of technology tools readily available to our students and our staff."

The high school requests include:

• New hard-wired Mac lab of 28 21-inch iMacs, plus software, by 2013-14, estimated cost of $1,434 per machine ($1,134 per iMac, plus $300 software).

• New printer in the iMac lab, by 2013-14, for a cost of $40,000, plus $12,000 for electrical and data, estimated total of $52,000.

• New cart of 30 iPads to provide additional mobile technology, by 2013-14, to be housed in a central location for teacher check-out, estimated total cost of $16,000.

• New digital video equipment, by 2013-14, estimated cost: $400 each times six for a total of $2,400. A teacher librarian would research and order the video equipment in collaboration with the IT department.

Results of implementing the new technology would be monitored through a checklist of skills developed by the administration and teacher librarians. The checklist would be used as a spreadsheet for teachers to track integration of technology into the curriculum. Records of lab usage would also be kept in order to easily report activity in the lab.

The IT department would supply regular support on the Mac platform, especially early in the 2013-14 school year, as the high school staff has limited skills in the platform. Professional development would be provided to teachers, preferably before the 2013-14 school year, and continuing through the year during prep periods, and before or after school.

Brand noted that since about 75 percent of high school students have smart phones that could be used in class, the high school really would like to have a hard-wired Mac lab so the teachers can teach a dual platform and be able to do video and video editing.

Henik summed up the high school's computer needs. She said that Macs are needed for graphic design, PCs are needed for other applications, and iPads are needed for industrial tech. She said, "What we've got is great; we just don't have enough of it." Young concurred, saying that "Realizing that it's incredibly expensive to get computers for 400 some students, we concentrated on what is it that we as teachers would want. We want to make sure we have a platform for every need."

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