South Putnam invites community input for Digital Learning Initiative

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
South Putnam High School teacher Brady Rhodes designed the Digital Learning Initiative logo and catchphrase "1:1 Together." The teacher technology team has discussed the importance of working together as big changes are made in the world of education. (Courtesy image)

Members of the South Putnam community are encouraged to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the initiative working to put devices in the hands of all students.

Technology Integration Director Tona Gardner, along with the teacher technology team, will be hosting a community night Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. in the high school gym.

She told the school board this week the goal is to answer the questions of parents and taxpayers regarding the purpose as the program prepares to roll out. In addition, input is also welcome because organizers still have planning to do.

"They will have two ways they can give input. There will be an online tool available that I will walk them through that night. They will be able to get online, fill out the survey information and write in what they would like to add. We also will have paper copies available as well. They will have a two-week window to turn that into the schools," Gardner explained.

"We want to know what our parents are thinking and we want to know what the community is thinking. We want that input now before we make any decisions in terms of policy or devices."

Gardner has led teacher and administrative teams at South Putnam in the last year to kickstart the Digital Learning Initiative. The program has been titled "1:1 Together" as the ultimate goal is to put a single device in the hands of each student in the corporation in grades 3 to 12. The title and logo were designed by teacher Brady Rhodes.

Gardner said this fall, the initiative will be picking up the pace after more than a year of working on the program.

"Last year we did a lot of building and a lot of educating of the teachers," Gardner said.

The 1:1 initiative was rolled out at the fifth-grade level, with Google Chromebook carts in each classroom and readily accessible to the students and teachers. Sixth-graders also have access in the English and Language Arts classes.

While the Chromebooks are currently being used, the teachers and administrators have yet to decide what web browsing device will be used once the initiative is in full force. In an effort to get the best price while ensuring device durability, several vendors will be visiting the teacher technology team meetings to give presentations.

Once the teachers have an idea of what device they would like to use, the information will be forwarded to the administrative team and subsequently to the board to consider approval.

Gardner said even though the Technology Planning Grant through Five Star Technologies has ended, South Putnam's consultant Brad Fischer provided the school with a check list as the group continues to make progress.

Looking forward, the teacher technology team will continue to meet monthly and create more concrete process and procedures.

Teacher Zach Love has taken point on putting together the policy considerations. Once a policy plan is devised, it will be taken under consideration from a teacher, administrative and technological standpoint before being sent to the board for approval.

Gardner said policies will range from take-home procedures to potential punishment of students who misuse devices.

Technology Director Steve Ricketts said the school will need to continue to expand WiFi capabilities in the buildings. Earlier this year he informed the board of an increase for wireless usage as well as six additional wireless access points. The goal in 2016 is to focus on expanding the access points.

In addition to policies, devices and upgrades, teachers are working with the students to provide a better understanding of web enabled access through Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Gardner stressed the importance of utilizing programs available on all types of devices.

GAFE is a free service which gives students and teachers unlimited storage space, as well as access to applications like spreadsheets, email, documents and slides. Teachers also have access to the Google Classroom application, which allows announcements and information to be posted on a website for specific classes.

Gardner reminded the board of the importance of continuing with the Digital Learning Initiative, which includes a focus on collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking and character.

"These address the 21st-century skills we know our students need to be competitive and successful in the world outside of South Putnam," Gardner explained.

She noted the addition of character to the focus is unique to South Putnam in an effort to make the students good citizens.

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