By Lisa Capobianco
Over the past six to seven months, a group of educators and administrators of the Technology Long Term Planning Committee banded together to revolutionize the way Southington Public Schools addresses and provides professional development for technology.
During a Board of Education meeting last week, Chris Richter, an eighth grade teacher at Kennedy Middle School and Karen Veilleux, the technology director of the Southington school district, shared an update the committee’s long-term plan to board members. Before creating a plan, the committee administered a district-wide survey to teachers to assess where they stood in the area of technology. From their level of computer skills to how often they use technology in the classroom to the availability of assistance in technological problems, the questions of the survey provided a wide range of data for the committee.
“We wanted to see as a whole where the district was at,” said Richter during the presentation. “We as a committee looked at each school and how they were doing, what we could do to try and address the issues.”
Richter said the results of the survey brought up three key issues for the committee to address: communication between teachers of different schools, “show and tell” among teachers district wide, and support systems for teachers who may not know where to turn to in the event of a technological problem.
“We wanted to create a system where you can show and tell,” Richter said. “When you show people things and talk about things, it creates discussion—it spurs innovation.”
The committee plans to address these issues through three initiative designs, which are still involved in the planning phase. The first design, called SPSTeachology.com, is a website that offers inside access to K-12 Southington teachers throughout the district, allowing them to load content for “show and tell,” to share ideas with each other.
Richter said the website is an innovative way to promote discussion since each post allows users to respond back, and users can also use social media to promote their posts.
“It is completely integrated with social media—if you post something to the blog, it can be automatically uploaded to your Facebook page, which allows a conversation,” Richter said.
The second initiative design, Google Docs, allows teachers to access their students’ work and to share documents back and forth. Google Docs is a web-based document management application that users can create and edit both private and public spreadsheets as well as word processing documents. Users can store the documents on the Google cloud and/or on their computer. The committee plans to roll out the design to the district next August with a training day for teachers.
“We are really excited about this—we have been moving toward Google Docs this past year,” Veilleux said. “We have had a lot of trainings in our schools, in administration, and it allows the students to start work at school, log-in, and finish that work at home because it is all safe in the cloud.”
Both Veilleux and Richter said Google Docs will make it easier for teachers to correct assignments and quizzes more efficiently in less time.
“It is fascinating with some of the information you get back—you can see how the students all got question four wrong, and it leads to those discussions,” Veilleux said. “It really offers some new, innovative simple things that teachers can do to really increase the many aspects of their teaching,” Richter said.
Besides working with Google Docs to enhance their 21st century skills, students will also have the opportunity to become “Tech-Sperts,” the third initiative design that the committee plans to expand throughout the district. Currently, the program exists at Thalberg Elementary School, in which students teach, design, and problem-solve software and technology, using programs like Prezi and iMovie. Richter said next year Kennedy Middle School will have a pilot program.
“I think the program itself has incredible merit—it really is that project-based learning,” said Richter, who added that the committee also plans to partner with the Southington Education Foundation and STEM University. “We are trying to create a more technologically literate district because that is what the students need.”
These initiative designs are not the only ways in which the district will revolutionize technology in schools. Recently, Governor Dannel Malloy awarded Southington a $237,923 grant for technology as part of a plan to bring more computers into classroom and increase Internet bandwidth. The state plans to fund over $24 million in grant requests to help students and teachers in Connecticut school districts to transition to the Common Core State Standards and the computer-based Smarter Balanced assessments. By the 2014-2015 school year, every public school district will administer these assessments, so schools may need new computers and technological upgrades, according to a press release from Governor Malloy.
“Part of the grant is really to get us ready for the state testing, so there is a report we are submitting regularly called tech readiness,” said Veilleux, who added that Derynoski School will receive a laptop cart and the high school will receive at least one or two laptop carts, most likely for Chromebooks. “We are required to submit to the state all our devices, [and] what rooms we are using for testing.”