Weigh In: What Technology Are You Adding to Your Schools This Year?
Administrators share their strategies for creating a 21st-century education.
"We're piloting a program with cell phone computers," says William Cardone, assistant superintendent of Toms River (NJ) Regional Schools, "or what we're referring to as mobile learning devices. These devices have texting capabilities insofar as the students can communicate with the teacher and with other students, but the devices can't text widely or place cell phone calls. The students use them as a learning device, the equivalent of a laptop but with smartphone technology.
"It's a joint venture with Verizon and GoKnow. We piloted it last year with approximately 100 fifth-grade students, and this year we're expanding it through grade 5 to between 850 and 1,000 students and extending it to grade 6. The most dramatic outcome of the pilot was probably time spent on task.
"With these devices, teachers can customize lessons and drive in those lessons based on the academic level of a particular student. Then students can drive back their homework and their responses to the teacher. And because these devices are mobile, we find that kids are doing schoolwork on their way to soccer practice-doing their homework, checking with other students, or communicating with their teachers.
"Because kids are so accustomed to these devices, they are very responsible with them. They're rarely, if ever, not charged because kids are so diligent about charging up their cell phones at night. And it's so much better than carrying a textbook home for their homework assignment. What a dream that their backpack isn't loaded down with 30 pounds of textbooks!
"These kids are digital natives, born into the Internet. Yet for the most part, we, meaning the educational community at large, still have traditional methodology when it comes to delivering curriculum to our kids in the classroom. We need to change, and we need to change quickly."
"We're going wireless," says Nick Jwayad, chief information officer for Portland (OR) Public Schools. "This year, we're rolling out wireless access points so that all of our schools will have ubiquitous access to our safe and secure network by the end of this school year. That's 2,500 wireless access points that are being deployed across 88 schools and will provide access for all of our kids for both personal devices as well as district devices.
"We're in the midst of this implementation right now with Cisco as our partner, and it's going really well. Before this year, we had sporadic wireless. We had a lot of different technologies out there and the platform was inconsistent. Now we've been able to replace all the existing access points while also broadening the reach with new access points so that all schools have equitable access.
"Oregon requires all of its standardized testing to be done online. This means the stress load in our labs may be a little bit higher than in other districts because so much time in the lab is consumed conducting standardized testing. So wireless labs are appealing to us not just because of their inherit mobility and flexibility, but also because they are less expensive than dedicated labs. Our wireless initiative will eventually allow us to conduct standardized testing using our wireless environment, which will free up the lab technology for instruction. That's something that we haven't been able to do before.
"The wireless environment is really designed to accommodate what we predict is the future of schooling, when teachers, administrators, and kids, whether using district devices or their own personal devices, will expect to have absolute access to the network."
"We've implemented a GPS tracking device for buses," says Kathleen Casey, superintendent of Palos Heights (IL) School District 128. "Every year we have parents calling to ask if their child made it on the bus, if the bus is running late, or if their child got off at the wrong stop. Although we've luckily never lost a child, we had no way of providing parents with that information.
"This initiative, through Zonar Systems, allowed us to install a GPS tracking device and a reader pass system on each of our ten buses. We issued all of our students RFID cards, a radio frequency card that registers when the child gets on and off the bus. The web-based program that is part of this implementation allows us to go in and see if indeed the child was on the bus at what time and at what location.
"The system does not track students, which was initially a big misconception among several of our parents and community members. We are not tracking students; we are tracking buses. We can only tell if the child has gotten on or off the bus. Once parents realized that we're not trying to track students, not trying to take the role of parents, they were 100 percent supportive.
"Each child's RFID card is about the size of a luggage tag and strapped to the front of their backpacks. We told parents that if their children ever forget their backpacks or cut off this card, then all bets are off. If a child loses or damages a card, it's the family's responsibility to purchase a new one. We also allowed any parent to opt out of this service, but no one turned us down.
"Down the line, we're hoping that parents will be able to use the Web-based system to go in themselves and check on their child. We're also hoping we'll be able to generate text or phone call alerts to parents if there's ever a bus problem. I think the technology for that will definitely be there in the next few years-to get instantaneous information to our parents."
"We've put SMART Boards in every elementary classroom," says Sarah Dudas, technology coordinator for Rochester (MN) Public Schools. "We're thrilled about it because there is now such an immense amount of materials that teachers have made and are sharing globally with the smart product.
"We find that students learn more when they have the opportunity to manipulate things with their hands. The kids also become so excited just seeing the SMART Board in the room, but even after the newness wears off, they really enjoy using this tool to interact with their peers and with their teacher.
"The teachers are also very excited about this technology. We have a content library sorted by grade level and by objective where teachers can post and share lessons. That's where the momentum has really caught on. Even the teachers who are brand new to the technology don't feel as intimidated as they might because there's so much content for them to start with. Also, the students, who are oftentimes much more comfortable with new technology, end up helping teachers figure it out.
"In our middle and high schools, we're trying to get an LCD projector into every classroom. We've found that students at this age simply don't think it's so cool to walk up to the board and show off what they know, so we're using wireless slates that let students and the teacher manipulate what's on-screen from anywhere in the room. The teacher can walk around the room, pass the slate to a student, and ask him or her to try a math problem. As the student writes on the slate, the work appears on the screen. This is something we've found just works for these students."
Jacqueline Heinze is a contributing editor at Scholastic Administr@tor.