The Application and Implementation of Technology In the Washington Community School District
We are a society that has been immersed in a world of technology. It has become prevalent in our culture and is not something that is going away and will continue to expand. It is incumbent upon the school district to prepare our students for the world they are going to work and live in. That world needs to include the most advanced technology that we can provide. That also includes the ability to adapt and to interpret and use information.
When the new high school opens this fall to our 9-12 grade students, they will each be given a computing device to use at school and at home. More than likely this device will probably be a computer laptop, though we are still considering the implementation of a tablet. The technology continues to advance and improve and if the implementation is not a tablet (IPAD) at this time, it certainly will be with the second round. By the fall of 2012, about 50 percent of the school districts in the state of Iowa will have implemented a 1:1 initiative at some level. This means a computer for every student. While it seems like a cutting-edge school reform, we will simply be a school district that will be implementing a strategy with the majority of other districts. To not be providing our students with the most advanced technology, technology skills they will be expected to have when they enter college and the workforce, would be doing them an injustice.
I had a patron who expressed to me that he believes the use of computers is replacing the ability to think or to use memory. I have had the same comments when we allow students to use a calculator in a math class. I would counter this with two questions. 1. Is it more important to memorize facts or have the ability to quickly access the answer? 2. In an environment of efficiency, do we need to take the time to do difficult calculations or obtain the answer in quicker, more accurate method? You could argue either side of these arguments, but I believe our society and workforce would say the efficiency and accuracy are the most important. Memory is great if you are able to apply to solving problems.
Schools have moved away from the old “drill and kill” strategies that have proven to be effective with those students who have great memories and very restrictive for those who don’t. To be honest, I don’t understand these spelling bees where students can spell words that no one else even knows the meaning of the word or ever use. What job does that prepare you for? One of my favorite movies that I have is “The Paper Chase.” One scene in that movie deals with a law student who has a photographic memory. While he knows all the facts of a particular case based on memorizing what he has read, this student is unable to use those facts into applying toward making a decision. As a result, the student was flunking law school. Memorization is a great ability to have, but being able to apply learning and facts is what employers are looking for.
Technology is not supposed to replace instruction or thinking. It should be a tool to access resources and a variety of sources that a local library is unable to maintain. Modern-day students need to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. They need to be able to adapt to the today challenges while also be ready for the changes of tomorrow. The average worker will change jobs nine times in their lifetime and six of those jobs haven’t even been created yet. The technological applications available to students are so diverse and exciting and students are engaged in their learning. Students learn how to research, problem solve and to find answers to problems. Several districts have replaced the dissection of animals in a biology lab with 3D applications on the computer. I happened to attend a learning session recently where only a few applications that could be accessed by students ranging from science, engineering, music and art were astounding.
Research on students and schools who have implemented the 1:1 computer reform show some interesting results. There is no evidence that 1:1 will increase student achievement. What is amazing is what happens with student discipline. Consistently, discipline referrals have declined 75-80 percent in schools who have implemented 1:1. Students are engaged in non-structured areas and don’t create the disruptions like they used to. It is my hope that eventually we will see wireless school buses so that students can be engaged on bus routes and on activity trips.
While the 1:1 initiative is limited to the high school for the time being, we have upgraded the technology throughout the district with media-enabled classrooms, wireless mobile labs and updated computer labs in all the buildings. We also have implemented a virtual reality lab in the junior high and hope to add a second lab in the fall.
When the school district implements the 1:1 initiative, it will be at a cost of approximately $175,000 a year for a four-year lease. These funds will be committed as a part of the Physical Plant and Equipment levy (PPEL) that was renewed last spring. It is an exciting time for the district with the opening of the new building and the advancement of technology resources for our students.