(Milton, WI) By Jake Magee, Gazette,
When it comes to technology in the classroom, the Milton School District isn't experiencing so much of a cultural change as a natural shift.
After a year of assigning either an iPad or MacBook to every student for use in the classroom, teachers and students are embracing a new educational lifestyle.
Assigned lab time is a thing of a past.
Poster board projects are no longer necessary.
Grading and testing are streamlined.
The district is preparing students to succeed through the use of electronics, technology supervisor Ed Snow said.
“We're preparing students for a world that doesn't even exist, yet,” he said. “Just like we all own a car, we're all going to use technology in the future.”
CHOICE AND VOICE
When a project is assigned to students, they're no longer beholden to a single format. In the past, it wasn't uncommon for teachers to assign a presentation with criteria, tech integrators Deb Dean and Sean Harvatine said.
With technology, students now have options to demonstrate what they know. They can create iMovies, make a picture collage or explain what they've learned out loud through technology. Oftentimes, teachers have to put a hard stop on projects or students would just keep going, Harvatine said.
“The kids are very creative,” he said. “This has allowed them to flourish.”
The tech makes it easy to test understanding. Device assessments give tutorials and feed questions students answered incorrectly back to them until they understand the concepts. Students who grasp the material can zoom ahead.
As teachers continue to warm up to technology, the culture continues to shift.
When the 1:1 initiative began this past school year, seventh- through 12-graders could take their devices home to work on assignments and projects outside the classroom. That changed almost immediately as sixth-grade teachers began asking for the same opportunity for their students, Dean and Harvatine said.
Soon after, fifth-grade teachers began asking, too. By Thanksgiving of the coming school year, fifth-graders will be able to take their devices home. Harvatine said he wouldn't be surprised if the trend continued to third-graders and beyond.
At home, students can use their devices to continue studying and working on assignments, collaborate with classmates on homework, seek feedback from teachers or access additional resources, wrote Heather Slosarek, director of curriculum and instruction, in an email to The Gazette.
Besides using technology at home and in class, students can troubleshoot issues with peers and teachers. The district started an iCadet program that allows students to use study hall time to work in the tech department.
The iCadets are the first to help users with their device problems. When problems are too complicated, iCadets hand devices off to department staff.
“They (students) have fixed hundreds of problems over the course of the last year,” Snow said. “It (the iCadet program) is more than just vital; it's teaching what we're doing at the same time. It just makes good sense.”
As tech integrators, Dean and Harvatine bridge the gap between technology and the classroom. Their job is to work with teachers and students and demonstrate how useful technology can be in education.
Some teachers still aren't aware of technology's almost infinite possibilities. Others weren't keen on giving ownership of devices they didn't fully understand to students who grasped the tech right away, Dean said.
To further teachers' understanding, Dean and Harvatine will share with teachers information they've learned at Apple Foundation conferences about how to use applications and programs to further student progression in the classroom.
Teachers will bring class units with them to training classes in August. Dean and Harvatine will show them how to use apps and programs to enhance their lesson plans, they said.
“The pressure level on a teacher goes way down once they see that … it's not from scratch. We're taking what they have and just twisting and turning it in a different direction for them, and hopefully through this training in August, this will spark some more changes or additions to their curriculum,” Harvatine said.
Not everyone immediately embraced technology in the classroom, but now that it's been part of the district's daily regimen, many teachers and students have grown to love it.
Plenty of teachers and staff are still learning.
In the initiative's first year, teachers determined comfort levels with the tech, created new opportunities not possible before, Slosarek wrote.
“Teachers used the first year to explore resources and opportunities to integrate technology into specific lesson plans,” she wrote. “We will continue to provide professional development to help teachers narrow those technology tools to ones that are extremely rich and appropriate for helping students meet the desired learning outcome of the lesson.”
Devices in the first year of the initiative sustained little damage, Snow said.
“The funniest thing we've discovered is that cats like power cords,” he said with a laugh. “We didn't see that one coming.”
Technology opens new opportunities for student engagement, collaboration and communication, Slosarek wrote.
“Our current students have grown up using technology, which some have stated is their 'true natural environment,'” she wrote. “This constantly changing environment allows teachers and students the ability to evolve and adapt to new expectations and opportunities.”
Some parents thought students would be sitting in front of a device all day and teachers' jobs would become obsolete.
“That's just not the case,” Harvatine said. “Good teaching's good teaching, and it happens with or without a device.”
Using technology teaches students not only book smarts but how to communicate and behave as digital citizens.
“Working within an ever-evolving environment … students will be more comfortable adapting to the real world that is constantly changing,” Slosarek wrote.