Best in Tech: District Computing Game Plan
Designs for meeting budget-right, eco-friendly, 1:1 student and staff computing goals.
Need help deciding on a district computing game plan? We've rounded up some very tech-knowledgeable education leaders to share their computing goals-including which products and solutions they use, and specifically what they do with those tools. You may find an idea that will spark more creative computer use in your district, school, and classroom-for students, teachers, and administrators.
Reviewers: Steven W. Anderson, instructional technologist, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, NC; Tonya Schmidt, principal, Withamsville-Tobasco Elementary, Cincinnati OH; Matthew White,
supervisor of data Operations, West Clermont schools, Cincinnati, OH
Products We Use: Latitude 2110 netbook
How We Use It: "Our laptop carts can be brought into any classroom to provide a 1:1 experience. They are used for Internet research, student response systems, word processing, instructional games, and assessments," says Schmidt.
Goals: "We chose the Dell netbooks to give hands-on experiences to as many children as possible, every school day, on a limited budget," says White.
Response: "Parents are grateful for the technology opportunities," says Schmidt. "There was skepticism at first—the idea of netbooks was relatively new. However, they quickly caught on," says Anderson. Teachers were impressed with the battery life, Anderson and Schmidt agree.
Learning Curve: "Teachers spent the spring before implementation with small group and individual PD sessions, focusing on the tech as a teaching tool, not an end in itself. Students are very comfortable working on the netbooks," says Schmidt. "Overall, a very shallow learning curve!"
Reviewer: Eric Sheninger, principal, New Milford High School, NJ
Products We Use: MacBooks, iMacs
How We Use It: "With the MacBooks, a world history teacher does blogging, and an English teacher uses Edmodo and Poll Everywhere; another teacher uses Wordle, and another Glogster. Our film and music classes use vodcasts. Our iMac lab uses Adobe Suite for graphic design."
Goals: "To embrace a new style of teaching," says Sheninger. "We wanted to increase student engagement, as well as get staff comfortable with integrating notebooks into their lessons as a learning tool."
Response: "Young teachers as well as my veteran teachers are developing Google sites, using the cameras, signing out the mobile iPod lab. Teachers are cheerleading each other. The school board is very supportive."
Learning Curve: "It really comes down to how familiar teachers are with the particular tech device. Even though these tools surround teachers, it doesn't mean they know how to use them for instruction. That means I need to be supportive and make time for the leader pioneers. We have lots of professional development—I'm training other administrators new ways to do walkthroughs."
What's Ahead: "I'd like to go 1:1, but I think we're a few years off from that. Kids coming to school now should have learning environment options that they have outside the classroom."
Reviewer: William D. Fritz, director of technology, Sycamore Community Schools, Cincinnati, OH
Products We Use: Timeline notebooks, netbooks
How We Use It: "We're using notebooks with our K-8 students. Some departments at the high school are beginning to deploy. Teachers have moved from desktops to notebooks. We're using whiteboards, as well as Blackboard for resources, content, and PD."
Goals: "We wanted to help our students and nudge our teachers into a global and mobile environment. We knew it would take time to change the manner of instruction of our school district."
Response: "My tech staff and teachers like the 6-to-8-hour battery life for all-day computing. Parents are talking about how kids are interacting—more than they did before. Teachers are suggesting their own ways to engage students in the curriculum with the technology."
Learning Curve: "PD helps teachers catch the vision of how to use the technology correctly in a classroom. Everyone thinks of students as digital natives, but they still needed help on how to care for and respect the device."
What's Ahead: "We want to expand our struggling students' Summer Bridge netbook program. We think that it will help keep all students learning throughout the summer and get them ready for the next grade."
Reviewer: Dr. Christine Coleman, director of technology, City School District of New Rochelle, NY
Products We Use: EliteBook 2730p tablet PCs, Mini 2140 notebook PCs
How We Use Them: "Our first major technology-based project was a study of the human body systems called ‘A Journey Inside Me,' initiated by one of our sixth-grade science teachers. Our latest technology project involves students from both the middle and high schools that also cuts across academic disciplines—to date the project involves eight teachers and six classes, and HP Minis with webcams."
Goals: "Our goal was to provide access to a global network of learning resources and communication tools to enrich and expand learning beyond the classroom's walls."
Response: "Our teachers have been pleased with the way the students have taken so naturally to the technology. Teachers plan the curriculum and point the students in the right direction, but so far, our students are doing most of the exploring themselves," says Coleman.
Learning Curve: "It was very important to have teachers get their hands on the technology before students did so they could work with it and determine the best ways to present material."
What's Ahead: "The technology gives us a lot of flexibility. We are starting to bring in guest speakers—we can videoconference right to the student notebooks, or on our interactive whiteboards."
Reviewer: Jen Hegna, director of information and learning technologies, Byron Public Schools, Byron, MN
Product We Use: ThinkCentre all-in-one A70z
How We Use It: "Our students and staff use the computers for a variety of activities, from online learning and high-stakes testing to video editing and collaborative group projects using Google Apps. These devices have the performance we need to achieve and to assess student learning."
Goals: "The A70z computers addressed two main goals within our technology planning and purchasing. The computers are eco-friendly, and they came in $150 under budget for each, allowing our district to stretch our tech spending."
Response: "Our staff was able to set up a full lab of 30 computers in less than four hours. Teachers have commented on the amount of additional workspace students have now, and that the systems run cooler."
Learning Curve: "I have never experienced such an easy transition. The only learning curve was going from Windows XP to Windows 7, which from the user's point of view is very minimal. We learned that the A70zs also had a singular benefit: minimal out of box to boot time. We were able to set up a lab of 30 computers in less than four hours."
What's Ahead: "We are happy with our Lenovo purchase and will continue with the brand."
Reviewer: H Songhai, technology coordinator, hope Charter School, Philadelphia, PA
Products We Use: Lenovo ThinkPad SL510s, Dell Optiplex GX280 desktop computers
How We Use Them: "A handful of teachers at our school use digital photography, video, podcasts, and scanning tools regularly. Students edit audio clips with tools like Audacity, embedding them on their blogs, and create multi-layered images with image-editing software."
Goals: "One of our primary goals is to go paperless. We hope to achieve it by having students and teachers use the Lenovo laptops and Dell desktop computers to create, publish, and share their work in the cloud using tools like Zoho Writer and Google Docs."
Response: "Administrators are receptive and supportive. I worked with teachers to help them develop a computer game plan. The English teachers have all gotten on board, and all of their students are using cloud computing tools to create, share, and publish documents and presentations."
Learning Curve: "Most of the staff and students were comfortable using computers. Incidental tasks like using SD card slots on the laptops and the USB ports on the desktops required a little guided practice."
What's Ahead: "To establish a handful of practical classroom routines rooted in the idea of cloud computing, eliminating paper and transparency. We don't need to do 4,000 things; instead we need to know how to do about five things 4,000 different ways."
Reviewer: Tom Phelan, director of technology, Peddie School, Hightstown, NJ
Laptops We Use: Portégé R700 laptop
Goals: "While there are dozens of individual goals for our technology plan, and they vary from academic department to department, the overriding goal is simple: We want to stop thinking about technology and just use it whenever appropriate."
How We Use Them: "The i5 and i7 versions run Windows 7 very well (we haven't tested the i3 version). The battery life is exceptional—it has all of the external connectors we need, including VGA and HDMI video, USB, an SD card slot, and a webcam. Also, it is dockable, and it even has an eSATA port. Education is about teachers with students, and our 1:1 program is designed to complement this relationship."
Response: "Students are the ultimate critics when it comes to technology. In past years we considered our laptop selection a success with students if they didn't complain about the model. This year, I knew we hit it as I walked down the hallway on the first day and heard student comments such as ‘This is cool!' and ‘Sweet!'"
What's Ahead: "We have made a lot of progress toward our goal of making technology invisible, but there is still a long way to go before using technology at Peddie will be as natural as turning on a light switch. While most of our R700 fleet is equipped with a traditional hard drive, we are testing the SSD version for next year."