Fillmore Central students, staff more
connected through technology integration
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 4:59 AM
Fillmore Central High School started the 2013-14 school year with brown paper bags and they will end it with a "CTRL-ALT-DEL" Such has been their technological progression.
In the ever-changing landscape of education, technology integration has been one of the major catalysts for that change. Many schools have adopted and started implementing the so-called "one-to-one" initiatives, including Kingsland, Lanesboro, Mabel-Canton and Spring Grove to name a few from the area.
In a world driven more and more by internet connectivity and the instant access to information, the Fillmore Central School Board and Superintendent Richard Keith began addressing their own technology integration in January of 2012.
The school had previously purchased SMART Boards for certain classes when teachers made requests based on perceived instruction enhancement. Now, the school board was discussing laptops, iPads and Internet access for every student, available at all times, at school.
At the end of 2012, Fillmore Central announced plans to give every ninth-through-twelfth-grade student a laptop for school use in 2013-14 and every seventh and eighth grade student the same in the following year.
So, there they were on the first day of school, each Fillmore Central High School student, opening up a brand-new Macbook Air to the tune of roughly $200,000 in costs to the district. In the almost seven months since, both teachers and students have had to find out for themselves if and how the integration has been worth it.
"The district has made a huge investment," explained the district's technology integration specialist, Aaron Janssen. "This is a profound change from before where students shared lab space with other students."
Students now have mobile and instant access to the resources, homework and Internet access they need to manage their classwork and learning. They take their laptops with them to every class, physical education classes notwithstanding. Each classroom and the lunchroom has laptop charging strips that students can use if their computer is running low on power.
With over 150 devices currently plugged into the school's network, and over 80 more joining next year, Janssen said the school is considering their options for improving their bandwidth.
According to Principal Heath Olstad, "Increasing this opportunity to younger students is definitely at the top of the list."
Even though all students in a classroom have laptops now, it is still up to the teacher's discretion on how they are used during the lesson.
"This year is a big learning year," explained English and composition teacher Gerri Nielsen about technology integration in her classroom.
Nielsen was accustomed to using a Mac for her own work, so integration occurred in extending those same freedoms to her students. When she did so, she found herself on more equal footing than was typical between a teacher and student in previous eras of education.
She admitted, "Kids are a lot faster at technology than I, but we help each other a lot. I'll teach them a computer shortcut and they show me one."
Increased ease of sharing information and communicating has benefitted her class. Nielsen has also noticed some students, who previously were shy and did not contribute much to discussions, thrive while using a computer.
"They are not afraid to ask questions because they can type them and not have to use their voice. It brings confidence to students," she added.
Instant access to information has helped Nielsen's students think outside the box and be fact-checkers. "They can accept my word as gold and they can also verify it for themselves online. They can look up additional information and feel better about the answer they are providing. It promotes more conversation," she said.
The resources available to students allow for increased communications between students, even after school. In a Google document shared between classmates, Nielsen was able to observe several students who were adding content to the document after school and who were also discussing it via the document's chat feature.
While Nielsen still gives students the option of completing certain assignments on paper, she explained her classes are much more streamlined when everyone uses their laptops. Occasional glitches pop up, but can usually be resolved.
Plus, she said with some humor, she then doesn't have to read "chicken-scratch."
Something Nielsen has also noticed in some students is an increased awareness of the importance of computers in their futures. "I think they are realizing they need strong computer skills to be competitive in a global economy. They need strong keyboarding and they need to navigate a computer swiftly," she explained.
In addition to the many positives seen throughout the year, teachers have also recognized the incredible distraction computers can become. Health and physical-education instructor Andrew Pederson said the main challenge in his class was keeping students on task. His health students use their computers every day to take notes and work on projects, but Pederson said he had to remind them the technology was for learning purposes and not solely for game, movies and other entertainment.
"We still catch students off task, but the number of times has gone down throughout the year," Pederson said. "Students have been more engaged with the lessons."
Janssen explained classrooms where clear guidelines have been established for technology use are those where creative uses of technology have come forth.
Social studies teacher Brad Holten worked with freshmen students to create digital textbooks for a project.
Students in an Intro to Music class taught by Sarah Holten composed their own music on software that could play their compositions.
Spanish classes in Fillmore Central have even seen the use of green screen technology in video projects guided by Brian Wolfgram.
"I am very pleased with the efforts of our staff and students . . . to make this an incredible experience," said. Olstad. "With all initiatives, there are challenges, but the advantages definitely have outweighed any negatives that we have experienced."
Janssen said Fillmore Central's number one goal heading into the school year had been to increase accessibility to course work for all students. That goal was accomplished, he said, due to staff's implementation and use of Schoology.com. This Learning Management System enables teachers to organize homework and tests, facilitates communication between students and teachers, among other features.
The current goal of the school is to increase both student and faculty awareness of their technology's potential. Janssen has developed online modules that show teachers and students more about their device's capabilities. The result, Janssen said, is greater flexibility and creativity.
Some staff, he reported, have set to moving all class materials into an online format. Others have planned to record demonstrations that could be accessed by students needing a refresher.
"Students have overwhelmingly shown their support for having the devices," explained Janssen.
Since the day they pulled their Macbooks out of the brown paper bags, it has been that support by both teachers and students at Fillmore Central that will see them continue on the path of learning in the 21st century.