Spring Lake Park District 16 studying tech expansion

by Elyse Kaner
Staff Writer

IPads? PC laptops? Electronic textbooks? What will it be?

Now that the technology levy of last fall has passed, Spring Lake Park District 16 is examining ways to update and further incorporate technology into the district, particularly in working with students.

The district’s technology planning team, in a report to board members at the Feb. 14 school board meeting, gave a PowerPoint update presentation titled “Expand Use of Technology to Improve Student Access, Engagement and Learning.”

The team comprises Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg, administrators and teachers.

In upping the district’s technology offerings, the focus would remain on being a world class learning community and improving student learning.

Years of planning

The technology expansion report included the following:

District 16’s staff is heavily engaged in professional learning to improve their knowledge of technology.

“As we look at technology… we’ve been planning for this along the way for the past several years,” said Jerelyne Nemanich, the district’s instructional technology coordinator.

Teachers have taken part in such learning opportunities as Professional Learning Academy, Powerful Learning Practices (professional development for 21st century educators) and a summer program Shift Happens! (LearNING in the 21st Century), to name a few. Seventy-eight teachers took part in the latter.

The district has evaluated a number of options to deliver technology to the classroom. It has looked into different operating systems, using apps in the classroom. And regarding emerging technology, cloud computing and “how we can make access to our kids 24/7, wherever they are in and out of the country, on vacation, at a coffee shop, they have access to all of our systems.” said Steven Halvorson, technology coordinator.

“But technology isn’t new in our district,” Nemanich said. “It’s something that we have had in our district for several years.”

Nemanich introduced a short video that highlighted technology in the district throughout the years. Equipment ranged from the older and bulky Power Macs to the district’s current 2007 desktop computers.

Motivated to learn

The district now has about 13 laptop carts, carrying about 35 computers apiece. A laptop cart was added at the high school last year. The carts are always being checked out, Halvorson said.

In 2008 the district incorporated interactive white boards. They are now in all of the elementary schools and about one-third to one-half of secondary classrooms have smart boards.

The district has seen a surge of more iPod grants, e-readers and iPad and Netbook grants to see what works in the buildings.

In 2010 teachers began writing technology grants. That allowed for iPod touches.

In 2012, the music department received some iPads, iPod touches and MacBooks and a lab for a tech class at Westwood Middle School, Nemanich said.

“The students are motivated to learn using technology,” Nemanich said in the presentation segment titled “What’s Going Well?”

Technology has allowed students to become more engaged in their learning, to become more self-directed and to make global connections. A teacher’s class, for instance, participates in ePals Global Community, working with students in Germany. They exchange thoughts on how life is here and there, which would not be possible without technology, Nemanich said.

Barriers

But technology is scarce in the district’s schools. Students are sharing iPod touches and laptop carts are being signed out all of the time, Nemanich said. “It’s hard for teachers to be able to get to use them in their classroom because it’s not available and everybody wants to be using technology in their classrooms,” she said.

Other barriers are frequent changes in technology. Also, there’s a learning curve.  “But there’s nothing we can’t overcome,” Nemanich said.

Technology is ever changing, said Ronneberg.

“Part of the planning… is how to make sure we’re setting up an infrastructure in a system that can work with a variety of technologies rather than be limited to one platform and we’re able to be flexible and be able to adapt,” he said.

Steve Brady, dean at SLP High School, gave examples of how technology enhances learning.

Among them was Kidblog, in which students publish their works on the web in a blog. The blog creates an audience for writers and the students give and receive instant feedback.

“Using technology to modify what we’re doing already gives a student a chance to have other people’s voice in their work, to create it, to make it stronger, to have that interaction back and forth, to further deepen their learning,” Brady said.

Said Doug Cox, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Westwood Intermediate School, “We are on the precipice of an opportunity here that is just fantastic.”

Cox held up a fourth-grade book on the solar system and compared it with a lesson on an iPad that isolated the sun and along with it brought up all the information one needs, he said.

“Where this is two dimensional,” Cox said of the book, the iPad is “three-dimensional. Kids are automatically engaged.”

Ronneberg said the district has been planning for a number of years to instill new technology in district classrooms.

Further planning

Among its many explorations of possible technology uses, the district is partnering with Farmington schools, working with staff to exchange ideas and learn more. Teachers are visiting Heritage Middle School in West St. Paul.

“We are stressing over and over again that for us it’s the learning for students and the access, and so tools for those kinds of things will be determined along the way,” said Denise Waalen, director of educational services.

March 27, Spring Lake Park will host an iPad in the classroom program open to metro school districts.

District 16 plans to have a final executive summary on technology completed by mid-April.

Waalen said the district will look for community feedback as it moves forward.

“As we look at the technology, the technology isn’t the end, that’s not the result,” Ronneberg said. “The technology is the tool to help implement and better personalize their (students’) learning through that learning framework that we’ve been looking at for years…”

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com


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