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Elementary School Teachers Embrace Technology, Others Wait

In keeping up with the latest technology trends, the Redwood City School District has several pilot programs at its 160schools.

Orion School second graders will no longer be seen lugging a dictionary, thesaurus and flashcards in their backpacks. Their classroom iPads can act as all those—plus as globes, maps and interactive tools. Over in Jason Williams' 5th grade classroom, students can immediately demonstrate their geographic knowledge by pointing to India or France on a map displayed on the interactive touch projector.

These are just some of the pilot programs that the has implemented to remain ahead—or on par—with the technology wave that is gripping society, and schools. Students have already demonstrated their propensity towards technology for games and recreational activity that introducing software programs and games for learning seems a natural fit.

And more than a logical adoption, administrators are concerned that an unwillingness to expose students to technology at an early age may set them behind when they reach high school age. 

“Kids feeding into the high school district need to know how to use the technology,” said Deputy Superintendent John Baker.

Once Redwood City students reach ninth grade, they will enter the with students from the Woodside Elementary School District, which has received in general education funding over their K-8 careers.

 

Cost to the District

To update the schools’ hardware, the district authorized leasing 500 new Apple computers in September 2010 and another 300 computers in September 2011. The total cost of the technology upgrades was $350,156 after an 11.8 percent discount from Apple’s education pricing.

The computer replacements comprised the bulk of the cost at $318,062, which will be paid for over four years with 0.5 percent interest. Garfield School’s mobile lab of 32 laptops made up the remaining $32,094. 

As a result of the hardware upgrade, the support staff of 3.5 full-time equivalent technicians spread over 9,200 students has had to spend fewer hours fixing hardware malfunctions, according to Director of Technology Joseph Siam. The update has also enabled teachers to take advantage of the new software, increasing their efficiency at work. All teachers have a MacBook to more seamlessly complete their work and track information. 

School board members say the largest concern about implementing technology into classrooms, which is often free, is equity. With 16 schools in the district, it’s difficult to fairly distribute the pilot programs evenly, said school board trustee Dennis McBride.

“It’s all going so fast and we don’t have a plan,” he said.

Hypothetically, he imagined, a well-meaning parent could generously buy five Internet routers for his or her child’s classroom to increase wireless speed. But these “rogue networks” could present a huge security issue with sensitive student data floating around the unregistered network.

On the flipside, trustee Alisa MacAvoy said waiting too long to offer technology to classrooms could be a detriment as well.

“If we wait too long, [technology in classrooms] would be piece-meal,” she said.

But merely thrusting teachers—and their students—into these technology pilot programs won’t act as a panacea to all learning issues.

 

Knowing Your Tools

“It’s like a paperweight, you have the technology, but you have to know how to use it,” said Superintendent Jan Christensen.

This involves staff training, another cost to the district that will have to be a line item in the budget.

Teachers are learning as well, slowly embracing these tools as facilitators yet not as replacements for the warm body in the room. The district aims to better coordinate training amongst teachers across schools, Siam said.

Parents at some schools are able to more closely monitor their child’s progress than parents at other schools. Parents of the sixth, seventh and eighth graders at North Star use PowerSchool as a way to track grades and progress. To date, parents and students have logged-in 7,400 times, eager to retrieve school information while at home. Parents spend an average of 45 minutes per log-in viewing the data per log-in, much more than a cursory perusal.

Trustee Alisa MacAvoy, also a North Star parent, said the usage amongst parents rivals that of students, who are already so tech savvy by their pre-teen years that tracking their progress digitally is second nature.

“They can talk with other students, get assignments and just check in how they’re doing,” MacAvoy said.

Just as students can communicate with each other, teachers will have an easier time sharing information and lesson plans through the school wide file server. By moving this information to the cloud, teachers never have to head home worrying that they left behind a lesson plan or assignment sheet in the classroom.

Even after teachers have packed up for the day, the learning doesn’t have to stop when students exit the classroom. Many Roy Cloud School classrooms are hosting after school sessions featuring the hugely popular Khan Academy education software, which features a large library of video lessons via YouTube. Google apps also offers myriad education programs to schools for free, but charge businesses.

Schools like Selby Lane have been experimenting with IXL, a K-12 math practice website, and several schools with Lexia, K-12 reading software. 

Technology is also facilitating acquisition of language fluency. With the iPod touch program, students can read a passage aloud, which the iPod records. Students can then play back the passage to listen to their performance and take note of areas they can improve. They can record as many times as they like before sending it to their teacher.

While Redwood City students won’t be turning into droids anytime soon, the more technology savvy and equipped they are, the more prepared they will be for high school, trustees agreed.

While some may weigh the benefits of technology in the classroom versus learning the old fashioned way, many education experts have widely agreed that technology in the classroom can expand learning capabilities and increase communication between teachers and students.

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Cathy James April 09, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I am a parent at Orion who helps with the iPad pilot. We have seen some impressive gains with the students who are able to use them regularly, but equity is an issue (we have 17 iPads, mostly funded by a grant from Oracle and RCEF). We would love it if people in the community would consider donating their iPads or iPhones when they upgrade. A first or second generation iPad is still a very powerful tool in the hands of a student.
Bob Hoffman April 10, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Bob Hoffman I was a product of a Redwood City education 60 years ago. Then you could find no better, and there was no tech issue. I now have a 13 year old daughter who has attended private schools in the San Fernando Valley. In Middle School she was doing PowerPoint presentations and using Photoshop to compile a yearbook, Her school taught her to do this, not me. For all students to be able to compete in high school, college, and especially the future job market they have to become very familiar with technonogy in elementary school.

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