Engaging technology prepares schools for new state standards

Laptops, iPads and interactive white boards are replacing overhead projectors, textbooks and chalkboards in local classrooms as teachers try to better prepare students for the global marketplace, as well as for the impending Common Core State Standards.

Ohio public school districts are preparing for the adoption of Common Core State Standards, a more critical-thinking based curriculum, by the 2014-15 school year, when the state will test students — online — on that material. The further integration of technology will support students’ learning, productivity and communication and help analyze information to build more understanding, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

According to a report released in July, K-12 education in the U.S. ranked 31st out of 141 countries in the 2012 Global Innovation Index. The report, published by the European-based international business school Insead, relates to innovation, research and technology output.

With this deadline and medium in mind, area districts are hustling to adopt technological devices and programs to make their students more competitive in the world and on state tests.

Edgewood schools are preparing for the new state standards by upgrading computers, considering a Bring Your Own Device program, and using a tech integration specialist to train teachers, said Denise Griffin, curriculum instruction and technology director.

“We’ve been wanting to get more technology in classrooms,” Griffin said. “We now have interactive white boards in every classroom K-12.”

After having saved about $4 million on construction of the new Edgewood High School, the district was able to use some funds to purchase Acer tablets for the 1,000 students in grades nine through 12, Griffin said. She said the district considered purchasing computer carts but decided on devices the students could use both in the classroom and at home for assignments.

“Our goal is to provide professional development so we truly understand the meaning the Common Core Standards authors intended, and everything we need to prepare for the rigor of those new standards,” Griffin said. “(In the new standards) there’s less topics for each grade level but we’re asked to go deeper into understanding the content.”

At Ross schools, the use of technology is widespread among the four school buildings, said Andy Klaber, district technology coordinator. He said about $150,000 is budgeted each year for technology, with about half being used for equipment.

Ross has about 500 computers dispersed throughout classrooms for the district’s 2,700 students, and last year purchased 220 iPads through various grants to be equally distributed among the buildings.

“For the most part almost all subject areas have utilized the (iPad) carts at one time,” Klaber said, who added special education has a dedicated cart.

Klaber said as the school buildings have been renovated — specifically Elda Elementary and Ross Middle School — all classrooms are equipped with interactive white boards.

“In two years all standardized testing will be online through iPads and computers,” Klaber said. “There won’t be any need for pencils; it’s really kind of amazing.”

But Klaber said there is the chance for disparities among districts on how much technology can be made available to students. He said the state is “walking a fine line,” when it comes to mandates.

School districts in Middletown, Madison and Hamilton have been using iPads and other new technology for a couple of years. Teachers, students and staff in Hamilton have access to more than 200 iPads.

At Madison, the district purchased about 60 iPads through various grants from foundations and organizations for use in math and science classes at the high school. Officials in Middletown said there have been about 90 iPads purchased since 2011 for staff and special education classes.

Districts also are expanding their networks to allow students and staff greater accessibility to online information, with filters in place for students’ protection. The Lakota Local School District is working on updating its technology infrastructure after the school board revised its policies this summer to allow students to use personal wireless communication devices including all types of mobile phones, laptop computers, tablets and e-book readers.

“Wireless devices are part of many workplaces and part of daily life, and they need to be part of schools as well, especially with all the new ways they can be used in the classroom,” said board president Ben Dibble.

In class, students have to get permission from the teacher to use the devices and only for instructional purposes. Students can freely use the devices before and after school, during lunch, and in between classes as long as it does not create a distraction or disrupt the educational environment, according to the district.

Todd Wesley, executive director of technology for Lakota, said the district is developing an Instructional Technology Plan with the help of Sun Associates, a firm which works with school districts and state departments of education to understand technology’s role in improving teaching and learning, according to its website.

Coupled with the use of wireless communication devices, Lakota East and West high schools are piloting a “Bring Your Own Technology” initiative this fall. Goals of the pilot program — encompassing up to 20 teachers at each building — include evaluating digital and blended learning models and student engagement to gather data on expanding the pilot program to other school buildings, according to Wesley.

“We’re just now putting our toes in the water,” Wesley said.

Mason City Schools continue to make strides in their offering of technology to students. After a successful Bring Your Own Device pilot last year for seventh and eighth grade students at the middle school, the program is being expanded to the entire school, said Tracey Carson, district spokeswoman.

“Technology has changed all of our lives, and so our classrooms continue to change, but more importantly our instruction is changing,” said Gail Kist-Kline, Mason superintendent. “We continue to see more iPads and smartphones being used in classrooms, but really believe the devices are secondary to the transformational teaching that is happening because of our students’ adeptness at navigating the digital world.”

Carson said the Mason Schools Foundation funded 60 iPads for use around the district this year, focused in areas of gifted learners in a problem-solving lab, English as a Second Language learners and students with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. Carson said even on the kindergarten and first-grade level, three classrooms were updated with iPads instead of replacing the desktop computers.

Jill Kelley contributed to this story.

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