2011 – 2012 – Mid-Year Round Up
In my last post, I discussed the whole New Year thing and then began a reflection of where we are as a school. This is a mid-year round up of life thus far at PPCS a brand new K – 12 school in rural Saskatchewan. The school is a combination of two schools – a K – 6 Elementary School and a 7 – 12 High School which came together on May 1st 2011. This year is our first as a K – 12 school. In this post, I’ll discuss where we are and where we are going technology wise.
Tech for all – all for Tech
We live in a world in which technology surrounds and permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We see it everywhere, from our cars to the dining room table to, well, everywhere. And it’s not just kids that are using technology. Smartphones are being used by all ages. This Nielsen chart is one of many that you will find that shows the use of smartphone across age groups.
What you’ll notice is the increase in all age groups. This means that a great many people have a computing device to access all the time. If they have a data plan, they won’t have to worry about whether there is wifi or not and, if they have the ability to share their wifi, then others can access the internet without needing a local wifi system.
With this in mind, we decided at PPCS to scrap our policy for smartphones and other BYO devices and, instead, began to look at how we could harness the use of these in the classroom. Our division AUP focuses on the proper use of these devices within the school – puts the emphasis on students using these devices in the context of learning. Our policy basically states that the devices can be used during the school day for learning purposes but the use of these devices for such things as bullying, access unacceptable material at school and activities that distract from the learning environment will require the student to put away the device and may result in their putting it in their locker and have restricted use during class time. So far, we have had a total of 3 students sent to the office for excessive use that is not classroom related – texting and gaming.
Computers – being a new school we were provided with a new computer lab with 27 desktops, a teacher desktop with various software and a connection to projector. All our classrooms have ceiling mounted projectors that connect the teacher desktop, or any other computer, to the projector and Soundfield surround sound system that allow teachers to use a portable mic or connect the system to the computer. Each classroom has 2 laptops in the room. We have a portable cart of 22 and another mini-cart of 9 netbooks which can be used by the cart or individually – students sign them out at the library. We have wifi throughout the school which allows our students to go anywhere in the school to work – even the bathroom! Just before Christmas we purchased 10 iPad 2’s and 10 iPod Touches. We will be deploying the iPads in the K – 3 rooms and the iPod Touches are for use by teachers for recording – video, pictures, audio or individual work. We also have 3 projectors that students/teachers can use throughout the school for small group work and presentations outside of the classrooms.
Our vision was to get the technology into the hands of the teachers and the students so they could use it. Period. We would then support the use through tutorials and one-on-one sessions with lead-teachers supporting other teachers. To make this happen, our admin team would cover for one of the teachers during a prep period so the two could work together. We have also tried to manage the upkeep through a system where teachers ensure they let the admin team know of any problems with technology so we can then determine the appropriate action(s). The school does not have anyone who has release time for technology issues so it has become part of our admin team responsibilities so that we do not end up with a teacher being disturbed while they are teaching. This has also meant that some issues take a little longer to resolve so we encourage teachers to always have an option B when it comes to working with technology!
Before we did any purchasing, we discussed what we wanted to see our students doing with technology. We had a number of teachers who are familiar with using technology – 2 of our staff teach online classes – but we also have a number of teachers who have little technology experience. Our year began with all teachers indicating that they were interested in increasing their use of technology. As I indicated in my last post, we use technology for communication on a regular basis at the school – we support the staff to access the information and use technology but we also expect that they will use the technology to make themselves aware of what is going on, what they are required to do and what they can expect to have happening at the school. (We are still working out the kinks of some of these processes but remember we are 5 months old so we sometimes fall as we are learning to walk!)
We had to do a number of brainstorming sessions on how we access computers when we have a few classes that are booked into the computer lab all the time – this limits who can access the lab because in our old schools – we had access to three labs and 2 mini-labs for the same number of students. It has meant that people are needing to adjust to this new reality. We haven’t been able to add as many portable devices as quickly as we wanted which, again, has meant some adjustments. What we have seen is teachers sharing the lab which has led to team teaching as the two teachers share their resources and talents.
Our division IT department has worked with us as we work through some of these things and has been willing to examine ways to make some of these things – like teachers taking the netbooks out of the building on evenings and weekends to use – so that teachers can have access all the time. This has also meant that we have had to introduce online services like Diigo and Dropbox so teachers can save their information to a web-based service so they can access it from any device they are using. More supporting and learning. With the recent addition of Evernote and OneNote as documentation tools, we are again having to support teachers as they work through learning to use these tools.
The one area in which we will be focusing in the remainder of the year is supports for students with learning needs. We have identified a number of students and a number of technology aides to assist them. We now need to make the two come together! Since this requires additional resources, it is taking us a bit longer to develop this part of our technology plan. However, with a renewed focus on this in the upcoming months, we hope to have these assistive technologies in place shortly after we return to school.
There is No Silver Bullet
Anyone looking for quick answers or shortcuts will be disappointed, I think. We have made great strides as a school in recognizing that our students and teachers need to have access to technology, to use it as they would use it outside the school and to be provided the necessary supports to be able to successfully make that transition from outside to inside the building. The factors critical in successfully using technology within the school, I believe, are:
- A focus on learning and growing by everyone in the building
- A realization that support for everyone is critical to success
- A plan for using technology within the classroom – meeting outcomes and student growth
- A willingness to learn and learn and learn – change is the new constant
- A shared leadership where people with strengths share with others and are given time within the day to do this. It’s not an add-on.
As the educational leader within the building, I realize that my willingness, or lack there of, to look at different solutions, to listen to what teachers are saying and then examine and re-examine our practices is crucial to our success as a school. Supporting the teachers so that we can do what is best for students is the foundation upon which we focus. It doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes but we are willing to own up to them, admit it was a mistake and then look for a solution. At PPCS, everyone is a learner, seeking to improve each day.
Next topic: RtI and DI in the K – 12 school