Fillmore Central integrates technology,
new schedule as school year gets underway
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 5:11 AM
Students and parents crammed together in the main entrance of Fillmore Central High School on the evening of Aug. 28. The 90-plus degree heat motivated people to get through the lines to pick up schedules faster than usual. The humidity threatened to reduce their efforts to a snail's pace. Directed into the gym, parent-teenager couples tried to find a place to sit within direct alignment of a floor fan. The gym filled up and the heat rose along with it. It was during these moments of discomfort and contrived patience that a new era was started at Fillmore Central High School.
Ninth grade student Caleb Kath receives his paper bag full of tech goodies from new Fillmore Central technology coordinator Neil Lundgren. Caleb will be able to use his computer during school in classes that integrate their use. He will also be able to take the laptop home to use for homework and other school-related activities. ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Located behind four white lunchroom tables in the gym were rows of paper bags donated by the local Harmony Foods IGA. The irony of their presence may have been lost on those too young to remember the days of brown sack lunches, chalkboards and 16 mm slideshow projectors. The irony of the paper bags was derived from the fact that within each bag was a shiny, new MacBook Air laptop computer. That one piece of equipment is what the Fillmore Central School District hopes will move the teachers and students into the future of education.
"That is how they are learning. If we say we are just staying pencil and paper we will be limiting possibilities in development and collaborative skills in the future," stated Richard Keith, Fillmore Central's superintendent. He said this is just one of the main reasons the school moved to a one-to-one computer initiative, which places a laptop into every 9 to 12 grade student's hands.
"When they are out of school, they are learning through electronic devices," he added.
Keith had heard about colleges and high schools going one-to-one about a decade ago. He wondered if it was a good idea. As the years passed he continued to read and hear more about the benefits of a one-to-one initiative.
"My attitudes toward it have evolved," he explained. The previous school he worked at prior to arriving at Fillmore Central had started a one-to-one initiative. Coming into the district during the summer of 2011, the topic of major technology integration did not surface in school board meetings until January of 2012.
Keith and board members had attended conferences and workshops where teachers waxed eloquent about their one-to-one experience. In only a few months, the district had shifted more focus on wireless infrastructure needs and started moving its budget into place to acquire laptops and iPads. In the last meeting of 2012, the board announced the school would move to a one-to-one initiative for 9 to 12 grades for the 2013-2014 school year. The 7 and 8 grades would be added the following year. Like the rate of change in the technological world, the district moved quickly.
The board had learned from other schools in the area that have gone one-to-one. Spring Grove, Lanesboro, Stewartville, Mabel-Canton and Kingsland have all gone one-to-one in some aspect of technology use.
Keith said the Fillmore Central district placed a priority on making sure it didn't make a mistake and get the wrong product for the students. From his previous one-to-one experience, Keith had used PCs, but noted a general trend toward Macintosh. The district saw advantages in durability and security in Macs that other computers did not have. With improvements to the school's network bandwidth, the school had the infrastructure and the products to begin the integration process.
"There is a need to put the computer in the students' hands, but also to have staff on hand that helps implement it into the curriculum," Keith stated.
The two people responsible for Fillmore Central High School technology are technology coordinator Neil Lundgren and integration specialist Aaron Janssen. Both were sweating away on that late-August heat wave, cleaning out the high school's old audiovisual storage room adjacent to the media center. Moved out were the overhead projectors and analog televisions. Moved in was an Apple TV and 158 Macbooks, power supplies and computer cases.
"We've been setting the stage the past few years," reported Janssen, who had previously been a high school social studies teacher for Fillmore Central. The district had purchased 20 Macbooks in 2011-2012 and then added 30 more last year.
Those 50 laptops will be used by the 7 and 8 grades while the other 108 are used by each 9 to 12 grade student. The school had also increased its bandwidth to be able to support a vast majority of students and staff accessing the Internet at the same time.
Lundgren and Janssen were hired to be the go-to guys for all things technology related. As the veteran techie, Lundgren compared solving problems in a one-to-one school with one that isn't.
"The 14 years I wasn't in one-to-one, I spent days wandering the halls fixing problems in classrooms. Now, the problems come to me," he explained.
As a member of the rising generation of educators, Janssen has tackled his job with a clear vision of what he considers to be the defining purpose of technology in schools: empowerment.
"We've had an education system that empowers only a few students," stated Janssen, explaining further that access to technology gives increased access to avenues of communication and learning.
"Many can't afford it. Now, this isn't a limitation. They aren't limited by resources," he said.
Equal access to information and educational tools means students will be held more responsible for taking charge of their education.
"Students need to be creators of their knowledge," summarized Janssen.
The evening of the technology roll-out, students expressed a wide variety of ways they would be able to enhance their education through the laptops.
One student said PowerPoint presentations could be worked on in the classroom instead of only in a computer lab.
Another said some students would probably find it easier to take notes on their laptop instead of with paper and pencil.
These ideas were brought forth before the laptops were opened. The potential use of the computers appears largely untapped, but it has been Janssen and Lundgren's job to keep filling the bucket of ideas.
Back in the library and before the roll-out, cardboard boxes stack toward the ceiling and wires run every which way. The techies have finished imaging the laptops with software intended to increase communication and collaboration opportunities.
Each MacBook turns on and accesses the desktop in 15 seconds. No login is required. From there a student can access their Google Drive, a cloud storage system for assignments and projects. From their web browser, students have access to school email powered by Gmail, where teachers and students can continue to communicate with each other outside of the classroom.
Also online is Fillmore Central's learning management system, Schoology. Here, students can access lesson-related content from each of their classes. It is the teachers' responsibility to keep it updated.
Schoology also has social networking features so students can interact in ways related to school. Of course, students will also have access to the Internet, albeit with certain parameters.
These and other features are moving the school into what Janssen calls a "21st century model of education."
"We don't want computers to be flipped open while the 19th and 20th century styles of teaching are going on," Janssen explained. "We want to blend the students' environment. We don't want them to think that class is only inside four walls."
Changing the culture of learning will occur alongside changing the culture of teaching. Just like the students, teachers also have their share of anticipations and skepticisms on how the laptops will work in class. Assisted by Janssen, teachers will exercise discretion on how integration will take place.
"I don't think you have to hit the ground going 100 mph with this," Keith said he stressed to the teachers. "We have to be open to learning; kids will be teaching you things."
Teachers will still teach, but many will deal with changes in how they teach.
Fillmore Central teachers have a variety of opinions when it comes to using laptops in their classrooms. "Some teachers don't want to do it," stated Janssen. "Teachers want to be able to know that students aren't screwing around."
A tool called Landschool may soon be able to help with that. Through the software, teachers will be able to view in real time what students are doing on their computers. Teachers, as a rule, have greater control over all tools that will be made available to students.
Some teachers are enthusiastic about the change. Spanish teacher Brian Wolfgram shared that he will try to go completely paperless in his classroom and base his entire class through online tools.
Math teacher Becky Mueller already uses a Smart Board in her class and said she will experiment with using the laptops as well.
"It will be very gradual," said English teacher Gerri Nielsen on integration. She noted the laptops would be very useful for daily journals and composing essays.
"If it is used in an engaging way, you don't run into problems," remarked Janssen. "They will reach whatever level is required of them."
In addition to improving communication and collaborative skills, Janssen expects students will learn an even more important concept: citizenship.
"Beyond being able to use technology is being a good steward and understanding the correct way of communicating," he said. "We are missing a large part of life if we aren't teaching them citizenship online."
The technology investment cost the district roughly $200,000. Students who take their computers home paid $45 for the year. Monthly payments can be made toward the eventual purchase of the laptop, if students so choose.
The laptops will run on a four-year replacement cycle and as technology changes, Janssen said the school may continue to change what it offers to students.
"We aren't married to these devices forever," he said.
The school is also looking into the feasibility of a one-to-one initiative in the elementary school with iPads. As the first year passes, policies, integration and technology will change and the possibilities will focus.
Fillmore Central is also adjusting to a new class schedule this year. According to Principal Heath Olstad, the district started looking at possible schedule changes several years ago. Low test scores in math and reading got the school board thinking how those would improve if the school provided year-long education in these and other important subjects.
The original "block" schedule had students taking quarter- or semester-long classes. This meant students might go a year without being in a math or English class.
Looking at neighboring districts, Olstad evaluated styles of schedules to see which one would most benefit Fillmore Central students.
The board approved an eight-period day with seven classes lasting 44 minutes each. Students have three minutes to move in between classes.
In order to keep providing every day band and choir, Olstad placed three 27-minute sections within period five. These three sections also double as lunch periods for students not in band and/or choir.
Olstad recognized that this meant band and choir would lose a couple minutes of instruction, but the every day opportunity remained the same.
Course offerings did not change with the new schedule. Quarter classes became semester classes and semester classes became full-year classes. There are a few exceptions.
Olstad integrated double periods into the schedule for 10 to 12 grades during periods seven and eight. Seniors also have double periods in senior English and world geography.
Olstad said block periods will vary as class sizes do. The block periods also mean some students will be in class as others move in the hallways. "We'll expect them to be respectful of each other," he stated.
Teachers will now be required to prepare for more classes each day and students may find themselves doing more homework each night.
"It will be a challenge, but we're into this wholeheartedly," Olstad concluded. "Change can be difficult, but even a difficult change can be good."