The days of lugging around 20 pounds of textbooks, binders and notebooks are coming to a close.
As technology changes rapidly, and life with it, the school system, in their mission of preparing students for life beyond classroom walls, has to keep up.
That is one of the major concerns that Havre Public Schools, and its superintendent, Andy Carlson, have to contend with every day.
“You’ve got to start the process somewhere, ” Carlson said. “I have said, I don’t want to end up falling behind, and people have told me, ‘Quit worrying about that because you already are. ’ That’s an uneasy spot to be in. You want to be strategic in what you’re doing, but education and the use of technology is moving so fast it’s hard to catch up. ”
And the problem isn’t entirely about getting the right device and technology to students, but also in making sure the students know how to use the technology responsibly.
“When I was in high school, I was limited to knowledge within the walls. That was only 20 years ago. Forty or 50 years ago, you were limited to the textbooks. For our students now, there is no limit. It’s more important for us as educators to teach the difference between good information, factual information, and the rest of it. The skills these kids are going to need, I learned in college. ”
Havre administrators and trustees have been talking to and visiting with districts across the state who have been trying new policies and techniques, mostly very different, to see which path, or combination of paths, would work best for Havre’s students.
Having recently wrapped up some end-of-the-year planning and budgeting, Havre’s administration and board of trustees have come up with plans to consider at the school board meeting, in the Havre Middle School auditorium at 6:30 p. m. on June 12.
According to Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson, one proposal to be considered at the meeting will be the purchase of 500 iPads to be split between all of the schools in the districts.
It’s a complex situation.
On one hand, Carlson said he is excited to make this large of a leap toward being able to place an extraordinarily capable device like the iPad into the hands of each student.
“We’re kind of in a nice spot that we can make a rather large dent in that, ” Carlson said.
But he’s also concerned about the sustainability of these plans. There might not be enough money to continue such purchases next year.
Aside from finances, the plan will also necessitate some fairly large policy changes.
“It’s going to be a large learning process for us, ” Carlson said.
The first batch of iPads will not only be split between the schools, but within each school’s libraries and classrooms as well.
Carlson said that some of the iPads would go into specific classrooms, where the teachers are ready and excited for the change.
Others will be kept in the library, available for more cautious staff to use sparingly and get used to how the iPads can be used.
“We’ve got some teachers that are just doing some great things, ” Carlson said. “If we don’t continue to support that and grow that and build on that, we’re doing them a disservice, and the students they work with a disservice. ”
Aside from the schools’ own devices, Carlson also said the district will look next into how to let students bring their own devices.
“We’re probably two Christmases away from having devices we’re not ready for, ” Carlson said. “If we don’t start preparing now, in five years we’ll be in a way worse place. ”
The town of Scobey might not yet be seeing too much influence from the Bakken oil field exploration headed their way, but the Scobey Public School District has.
According to Scobey Superintendent Dave Selvig, the district’s plans for technological innovation were unexpectedly accelerated.
“A shale oil leasing company that moved into town wanted to do something for the schools, ” Selvig said, “so they bought all of the students iPads. ”
Even though the entirety of Scobey’s 260 students could fit into one of Havre’s elementary schools, that is still a donation worth more than $100,000.
Selvig said the district was planning on bringing iPads in to the classroom already, but more gradually. The staff members at the school had just gotten one each a few weeks before the donation was made.
“I had a majority of the staffers request them, ” Selvig said. “They were very enthusiastic about it and really excited to get the students excited about it. Usually that’s the toughest sell, but I talked with them about it, and they jumped on board. ”
While Selvig anticipates still using traditional textbooks, he recognizes that the new digital textbooks, with interactive content like slideshows, videos, and audio recordings, are “the way textbooks are going. ”
Aside from offering the learning material to students, the iPads will also be used to turn in homework assignments digitally.
It’s harder for a dog to eat a string of ones and zeroes.
Saco started taking a more varied approach to classroom technology devices two years ago, focusing consistently on teaching students how to use the devices responsibly.
From kindergarten to third grade, students are given iPads. For fourth and fifth grades, students are given a personal laptop in class that stays in the classroom. From sixth grade through graduation, each student is responsible for their own laptop at all times, to use in class or at home.
Saco Public Schools Superintendent Gordon Hahn said the students are even given “full administrative control of their laptops, ” meaning they can install whatever programs they need on them, “which other school districts choke on. ”
But for Hahn, it’s the best way “to develop a sense of responsibility and accountability of their technology. ”
Hahn said that we see adults lose their jobs for irresponsible use of the computers, and students need to know that.
“There’s a price to pay, ” Hahn said. “Hopefully we teach our students that before they get into trouble in the workplace and possibly ruin their lives.
“And if students do not behave (and break their computers), we aren’t quick to fix them. ‘Good luck with your classwork. ’”
Just because they have control doesn’t mean there isn’t supervision. The computers are always connected to a web filter on the school’s server, even when used at home.
And teachers now sit at the back of the room, to keep an eye on the students’ screens.
They started teaching keyboarding skills in kindergarten, with “more formalized stuff in second or third grade. ”
In fourth and fifth grade, students work on their computer management skills, learning how to organize files or set up printers.
“When these kids hit sixth grade, they are basically proficient, ” Hahn said.
They’ve paid for the devices with money that was dedicated to replacing desktop computers in classrooms and computer labs. Hahn says his district now has only four desktop computers in use.
“We need to prepare students for their future, not our past, ” Hahn said.
North Star Public Schools is making massive changes to the district this year. Aside from moving to a four-day school week, teachers and administrators are significantly adding to their educational technology use, both in hardware and software.
For hardware, the district is purchasing iPads for their juniors and seniors, as well as two carts of iPads, one for each school building, that will be available to teachers as they need them.
“We are expending some money that would normally go to the purchasing ot textbooks, ” North Star Superintendent Ken Halverson said.
As far as software review, Halverson said the district is “making our initial step in going entirely to a digital curriculum. ”
The new devices will allow the use of newer more interactive learning materials that Halverson said are more effective.
“Say a teacher is teaching a course on American history, on the War of Independence, ” Halverson said. “Teachers can show some videos of places back east. So it’s a bit more real than pictures in textbooks. ”
Like in other districts, the two main concerns are being able to afford these ideas and making sure the staff is prepared to use them.
“It’s just a matter of how quick you can afford to get there, ” Halverson said. “We’ve been fortunate to have some budgeted monies to go towards this initial purchase. ”
The district is investing $24,000 in new devices this year.
“It’s significant, but not more than we would normally spend, ” Halverson said.
For staff training, Halverson said it is largely in the hands of the district’s technology experts, Kay Jorgenson and Joanie Lipp, who are hosting training sessions for the rest of the teachers in their district.
“We want our teachers to hit the ground running this fall, ” Halverson said. “And I know how these gadgets go with some people our age. ”
While the Bozeman Public School District may not be small enough to hand devices out to students like more rural districts, it does have the resources to do all sorts of experiments in policy and programs that test the technological waters and analyze findings.
Kirk Miller, who is wrapping up his tenure as Bozeman superintendent this year in between being Havre’s superintendent and his new post in Helena heading the School Administrators of Montana, described the significant changes Bozeman has made over the past few years.
The district a few years ago changed the policy to allow students to bring cellphones into the classroom.
Actually, students were already bringing the devices. The policy just changed their presence from punishable to useful.
The same occurred for social media as well, changing “accepted use policies to responsible use policies, ” allowing teachers to use the tools students are familiar with and enjoy for education.
These changes begin with “mega issues dialogues, ” groups that include staff and students that analyze issues affecting the district and present pros and cons to the school board.
Other changes start in “pockets of innovation, ” as Miller called them, where 40 staff members work on various academic experiments to create “a safe environment to innovate and collect data on what they’re innovating, to see if it is responsible school-wide or system-wide. ”
Miller said school officials “budget-wise” couldn’t provide devices to students, but they don’t need to.
“We’ve surveyed students, ” Miller said. “About 80 percent have their own device. So we’ll be looking into what to do to get a device into the hands of the other 20 percent that will be useful to them. ”
Miller said the Bring-Your-Own-Device system works well, since “students tend to know more about their own device than one assigned to them, so we don’t need as much tech staff. ”
According to Miller, the old policies that limited technology and social media use were counter-productive.
“Kids are very insightful and digital media, they use the tool seamlessly. It’s just a part of their life, ” Miller said. “The fact that we were potentially keeping that from them by saying they can’t use that, it was driving that whole great education piece out of the school, off school premises, but it was still going on. We changed the policy because we wanted to teach the most responsible and ethical use. ”
The new tools are revolutionizing how students learn.
An engineering class had students in Bozeman collaborate with students in North Carolina; to design a desktop organizer, write a business plan for the product and give a presentation on their plan to other schools across the country.
An advanced biology class has flipped traditional learning methods, with lectures on YouTube to be watched at home, then discussed with classmates while in the classroom.
“Everyone is working independently, and education is really personalized for students, ” Miller said. “We have all sort of examples where this is really starting to pay off. ”
OPI, META, SAM
Since so many of these conversations are newer than the technology they discuss, there are not really any state-wide policies or programs yet. So far, Helena’s role has been largely that of a conduit, connecting various districts across the state to learn from each other.
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, and former Havre superintendent, Dennis Parman helps districts requesting information and technology policies with experts in other parts of the state.
“We regularly meet with curriculum directors around the state and talk about who’s doing what, ” Parman said. “It’s still pretty exploratory.
“We engage with school districts. We learn from them. They learn from us. Curriculum specialists are always working on that. Whenever we get calls we try and help them. ”
Parman said he wasn’t “aware of an organized group of IT specialists, ” but just such a group has been meeting for a few years now, the Montana Educational Technologist Association, including a meeting in Havre a few weeks ago.
The organization was formed out of the frustration with the lack of communication between the IT employees of various districts.
At their meetings around the state this year, the group has been discussing a possible merger with the School Administrators of Montana, which has existing ties to and infrastructure between every district in the state.
META will be participating this year in the Montana Institute of Education Technology’s ninth annual meeting in Great Falls, from June 18 to 22, presenting on “the Tech Track, Monday and Tuesday, June 18 and 19, ” according to its website, http://www.meta.k12.mt.us/.
While in town for the MIET meeting, the group will have its own statewide meeting, which promises to be a big one, as tech people from the majority of Montana schools plot out how to take tech collaboration from email lists and forums to a more serious and integrated collaboration.
Parman said that when he is asked about how a Bring-Your-Own-Device policy could work, he refers them to Big Fork Public Schools.
Big Fork changed their policy this year, because Superintendent Cynthia Clary “wanted to use tech appropriately” and try “educating students of appropriate use. ”
“We have kids behind the wheel of a five thousand pound vehicle, but first we give them training, ” Clary said. “It’s the same for our students. They need training on the digital highway. ”
Clary rewrote the policy, expanding it from one page to five, outlining how phones could be allowed in classrooms.
Their use is still entirely dependent on the teacher’s comfort level.
“Some teachers allow phones out and everything, ” Clary said. “Some teachers say, ‘take them out, turn them off. ”
Although students are encouraged to bring their own laptops or tablets from home, the school is also prepared to help students without access to these devices. They have two laptop carts per school, and carts of iPads, that students can check out for class.
Students in kindergarten, fourth grade and fifth grade are using iPads.
Eighth-grade students are doing all of their social studies work this year online. For students who do not have Internet access at home, Clary said the “teachers have stepped up and helped with that. If students need chapter 11, the teacher will download it for the student. ”
The high school library and english department are online now as well, offering literary classics for free on Amazon Kindle e-readers.
The classes are also using social media, like the popular “My Big Campus, ” which is sort of a Facebook for classrooms, which encourages conversation and interaction between the teacher and students, as well as among the students themselves.
The whole process is being supervised here as well. Clary said that posts on the site can send warning flags to administrators, including if a posted picture appears to show too much skin. One student got a warning for typing “LMAO”. It may not be profane in itself, but it stands for “Laughing My Ass Off, ” which the filter knew.
“Kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what the rules are, ” Clary said.
While two students lost their technology privileges this year, Clary said “percentage-wise we’ve been really successful. ”
Some people are nervous about the school counting on students to be responsible for such expensive and sophisticated equipment, but Clary said that it’s no different than the calculators that schools have provided for students for years.
“It’s just a tool and that’s what everyone needs to remember, ” Clary said.