Tech Knowledgey: How are Morgan County Schools adopting new technology?
School system invites community to Technology Showcase Tuesday, Jan. 19
Want proof chalkboards, filmstrips, even TVs have gone the way of the dinosaur when it comes to education in the county?
Visit Morgan County Elementary School Tuesday night.
School system administration and teachers are set to host a “Technology Showcase” on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at MCES. Four teachers from each of the schools will be holding 15-minute demonstrations on “how they’re integrating technology into their classroom and how it‘s helping them teach,” school system Director of Technology Jay Cawley said.
An hour-long session for teachers will begin around 4 p.m., while the session for parents and the community will begin at 5:30 p.m.
Change is A-Comin’
The technology total for Morgan County’s classrooms comes to near $3 million ($2,976,379.64) has been spent of the $14,881,898.22 collected in ELOST III funds thus far. (In fact, according to information provided by Board of Education administration, more than $2.5 million has actually been spent on technology and near $120,000 is owed in outstanding claims and open purchase orders; this comes to just over $2.6 million. The leftover more than $300,000 will go towards replacement laptops and computers, according to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett.)
According to Cawley, funds (actual figures provided by school system administration; see chart for easy-to-read breakdown) generated by ELOST III have gone to:
• Purchase laptops to replace teachers’ desktops (part of the five-year replacement cycle), $751,882.90 (in “Computers and Laptops”)
Not only did the purchase of laptops allow teachers to take their work home, it also gave them the ability to work in groups as far as training and collaborative planning.
“If I’d have known how popular that would be, we would’ve done it sooner,” Cawley said.
• Set-up a wireless network throughout the schools, part of the $642,928.46 total for “Network Infrastructure” “A [teacher’s] laptop would be no better than a desktop if they had to plug in,” Cawley said.
• Purchase SMARTBoards and the projectors critical to their use, $933,964.45 (in “Interactive Classroom Technology”)
The addition of a SMARTBoard and projector to each classroom gives the teacher more options in presenting material to students, Cawley said. He cited the example of teaching geography through the use of Google Earth versus teaching technology through use of a globe.
“I’m not saying that she’s [the teacher] teaching faster or teaching more,” Cawley said. “It’s giving her more options to present the material... It’s engaging for students.”
“Some use the SMARTBoard as a center,” Instructional Technology Coordinator Lissa Phelps said. “Students can come up and manipulate things on a SMARTBoard.”
Fifth grade Math and Science teacher Amanda Pickles uses the SMARTBoard “as a white board, to watch videos for learning, to play educational games, to watch [PowerPoint presentations], to assess students learning, record,” she wrote, in e-mail correspondence; Morgan County High School Read 180 teacher Julie Strom reports using the SMARTBoard to review for tests through playing “Jeopardy” with her class; and tenth grade Mathematics II and Accelerated Mathematics II teacher Brandy Nichols publishes SMARTBoard lessons to her Webpage, which allows students access to the work anytime, provided they have Internet capability.
• Install a video distribution system at each school, $17,337 (in “Video Distribution”)
The installation of a video distribution system allows the SMARTBoards and projectors to be used as TVs and teachers to access content on-demand. Movies can be watched in multiple classrooms; there is, essentially, an infinite amount of copies once the film has been encoded into the system. In addition, all of the schools are using the system to produce and output their morning announcements.
• Upgrade the networking equipment that connects all of the school system’s computers, part of the $642,928.46 total for “Network Infrastructure”
• Purchase server equipment, $192,672.10 (in “Server Infrastructure”)
(In addition, $11,680.39 was spent as part of the “BOE Telephone Total.”)
Phrase of the Moment:“Individualized Instruction”
With the addition of all of this new technology, the school system has held ongoing training (one-and-a-half school system employees are responsible for teaching the teachers) for teachers and administration. The training is school-specific and focuses on, of course, any known gaps in knowledge teachers have as well as what teachers ask to learn.
“If teachers don’t know how to use it, they won’t,” Cawley said.
Eventually, the training sessions evolve from strictly teaching-and-learning sessions for teachers to collaborative time.
Cawley maintains that this combination of varying technologies has opened the door in regard to teachers’ ability to individualize and personalize instruction.
“Students are simply more engaged and interested in learning when they are able to interact with various technologies, especially the SMARTBoard,” Pickles wrote. “The students WANT to answer questions and demonstrate their abilities using the SMARTBoard. Teachers are also able to assess how students are doing more easily; therefore, we can re-teach and enrich more easily and when needed.
Moreover, the SMARTBoard applies to all types of learners – kinesthetic, visual and auditory – according to Nichols. Students who are kinesthetic learners can work hands-on with the technology, physically manipulating objects on the board; meanwhile, visual and auditory learners are “mentally stimulated by the graphics, text, and flash drive applications,” Nichols wrote, in e-mail correspondence.
At Morgan County Middle School, according to Cawley, teachers are using “Student Response Systems” connected to SMARTBoards to ask students questions and get immediate answers in the middle of a lesson.
“She’s getting immediate feedback while she’s teaching,” Cawley said. “In the meantime there is software aggregating information; later on she can see which students got it right and which got it wrong and can provide re-mediation if they [the students] need it.”
Strom cites the 11 computers in her classroom, used by students daily, as essential to assessing progress.
“Read 180 has a software component that involves a daily program where students practice reading fluency, word identification, and spelling,” Strom wrote, in e-mail correspondence. “Similarly, I have a program on the computers that tests students on the books they read, as well as one that determines each student’s lexile, or reading, level. These programs all shoot data to my computer that I can pull from them. Thus, the students not only get wonderful, differentiated instruction not available in a standard English class, but I also have a way to assess where each student is at so that I can modify my teaching.”
Penny Moore, who teaches seventh and eighth grade Gifted Language Arts and eighth grade Reading, uses everything from video cameras to design software to Skype to Podcasts in her classroom, and believes technology to be a most fundamental equalizer.
“I think it [technology] also allows learning to cross gender, ethnic, and economic lines,” Moore wrote, in e-mail correspondence. “When the materials are provided and the opportunities are given at school, each student has an equal opportunity to create and participate.
But, the classroom technology isn’t always without its faults.
There are times when it fails to work, so teachers are required “to improvise and be flexible in their classroom,” Pickles wrote.
With SMARTBoards, it’s hard for teachers to keep up with the new programs their students want to try, but that teachers don’t yet have access to. Further, the sheer amount of programs, tools and lessons available to teachers gets overwhelming, and it can sometimes become time-consuming to find the right fit for a particular group of students at a particular point.
The Future’s Future
As far as technology funding for ELOST IV, the board is taking the same stance toward technology as they did in ELOST III, pledging about 20 percent of funds collected by the tax to technology. What, specifically, will be purchased with that ELOST IV money, however, is yet to be determined.
“Predicting five years out, six-and-a-half years out is extremely hard to do,” Cawley said. “What we think about doing with technology could be very different five years from now.”
Cawley is certain, however, that ELOST IV funds will have to be used to upgrade the 1,600 desktop computers in use throughout the school system, the vast majority being in classrooms. Computers that are owned by the school system are on a five to six-year replacement cycle, Cawley said. (There are 220 classrooms in the Morgan County School System, and Cawley estimates six computers in each, a total that comes to 1,320 computers. Add the computers in labs and used by administration and in the Board of Education’s office, and it Cawley’s estimate of 1,600 becomes a bit more clear.) And by the time ELOST IV comes around, the SMARTBoards and projectors will be near end-of-life.
In addition, toward the end of the sales tax period, Cawley is sure that funding will be needed to upgrade technology infrastructure, like wiring and components of the system‘s networks, and the new elementary school in Rutledge will need to be stocked with technology equipment.
When it comes to replacing technology, the school system doesn’t just replace one piece of equipment at a time; if they did, there could be many different generations of different pieces of equipment.
“We have one-and-a-half people to repair 1,600 PCs,” Cawley said. “We do things in bulk to be able to keep up. Different hardware is hard to keep up with.”
Try keeping up with technology and technologically savvy students.
“They are growing up in this fast-paced information age,” Kindergarten teacher Stephanie Bennewitz wrote. “We need to meet them where they are and realize they’re going to need a strong background with technology to succeed in the future.”
So, is the high-tech classroom worth it? After all, students were learning before through use of TVs, filmstrips and chalkboards.
Hard-drive on over to MCES Tuesday night, and decide for yourself.