South Putnam creates tech team for 1:1 implementation

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

With technology shaping education like never before, the South Putnam School Corporation is making strides in planning for the implementation of 1:1 programming within the next few years.

As it has been the topic of discussion over the past few months, the South Putnam School Board is looking to implement more technology within its classrooms. However, in doing so, the corporation is looking to complete the proper planning needed to make such a program a success.

"The overall approach that South Putnam is taking is somewhat of a cautious one," Steve Ricketts of Five Star Technologies explained. "The one thing that we don't want to get into at South Putnam is buying a large number of devices without having a clear direction on how those devices are going to be used. There's been several districts that have made that mistake and it's kind of like getting a car before the horse. You throw a lot of devices at teachers and if they don't have a plan on how to use them, a lot of times they become under utilized and it just becomes a burden and a cost to the district."

Recently, the school board hired Tona Gardner as its technology integrator who will partner with Ricketts to get the ball rolling. The two have already hit the ground running by creating a technology team, which consists of 11 teachers from various grade levels and subjects throughout the corporation.

"South Putnam Schools currently incorporates technology into our curriculum and our instruction and we look forward to working toward a learning environment that gives students even more access to technology," Gardner said. "But, we view technology as a tool that enables students to reach and exceed their educational goals. So, when we consider changes and upgrades in technology, we start with our curriculum."

Currently, South Putnam schools uses the course management tool My Big Campus, through which teachers can coordinate class discussions, create and proctor assessments, create and share resources with students as well as supervise collaborative assignments. Students also have access to online college and career ready English Language Arts content and tools in addition to their textbooks.

At the elementary level, both teachers and students have access to science and math curriculum online as well along with both middle and high school students being able to utilize many online resources including Discovery Education, Gale Resources, SAS Curriculum along with several others.

"We also have some Chromebook labs in a few of our high school and elementary classes, where teachers and students can utilize Google Apps and work within a collaborative learning environment," Gardner explained. "Classes like those are giving us valuable information about what works best for our students and while we have many tools in place, we are now working to create an environment where students have continual access to those tools, so that tools are not limited to classroom time or extension activities. So, that's why we're exploring going 1:1, but we're starting from the standpoint of looking at the curriculum first."

With the technology team in place and set to meet for the first time this school year on Thursday, Sept. 11, it will first begin evaluating South Putnam's curriculum, which recently changed due to new standards passed by the state for both math and English Language Arts.

"Under the guidance of our teachers, technology tools can offer some of that support," Gardner added. "We are focusing our professional development on strategies and tools teachers need to prepare students to meet and go beyond the new standards. For example, we see new process standards in math and increased rigor and text-citation demands in English Language Arts. In order to guide students as they work through these new expectations, we want our students to have the tools they need."

In taking a more methodical approach, the technology team is taking some time to look at the new curriculum in hopes of better seeing what its students truly need in terms of technology to support existing curriculum. The team will also be exploring its options along with becoming experts in technology philosophy and policies.

"This year is a year of educating and a year of transitioning the new standards," Gardner explained. "Then next year that technology team will be in a position to make a well informed recommendation to our school board and superintendent Meanwhile, our school board and superintendent will be looking at funding options and evaluating it from that point."

Both Ricketts and Gardner noted that next year will be more of an exploratory year. The team will not only go on-site visits to schools who may have already rolled out such a program, but begin exploring what grade levels may make the most sense to begin such a program with. They will also gather information from educational experts, South Putnam students and parents in hopes of making a well-informed recommendation during the 2015-16 school year on what is needed to be college and career ready.

"Next year will be more of an exploratory year, where we've got the curriculum somewhat squared away and then we're going to start looking at making visits to other corporations that are doing 1:1," Ricketts added. "Long term, we're looking at probably that third year to be the first year that we may roll out any type of 1:1 program. There's some other things that are going to have to happen between now and then as far as technology requirements as far as filling our wireless coverage, making sure we have sufficient wireless coverage in our classrooms and also bandwidth to the Internet to make sure that its appropriate. We've put in the foundation of wireless coverage. We've already got the system in place, now we just have to build it."

The technology team will also be hearing from teachers prior to the roll out of the new program in the form of presentations on how each would use such technology in hopes of having greater success as well as providing stability with flexibility as far as what the teachers can do with said technology.

"We would really like for the teachers to have some sort of plan in place. We're not trying to make it a competitive situation, but just making it justified before we go and spend large amounts of tax dollars on devices without really any clear direction from the teachers who are going to be using them," Ricketts explained.

So, rather than focusing on what device will be purchased in the coming years, the South Putnam School Corporation is focusing more on how content can help further curriculum.

"So many people think that when you say 1:1 that it's an end to textbooks. I don't believe that. It's much more of blended classroom to where you still use textbooks, lessons and other things like teachers have done, but you can enhance them with a tool and that tool just happens to be technology," Ricketts added. "There's no rushing into this and going out and buying device after device after device. It's going to be a very informed decision.

"It's an exciting time and I'm really excited about how South Putnam is approaching it. While this is being promoted and pushed by the school board, they're very much conscious of making the right decisions. They understand this is a large undertaking."

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