Clayton teachers prepare to go high-tech this year

“We realized we had a problem when Kindergartners were sitting down at a desktop computer and trying to swipe the screen,” said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Milena Garganiga. “We were really behind.”

Gene Gladstone, Educational Technologist at Clayton High School, talks to teachers about using Google in the classroom.

As Gargeniga talked about how technology is a huge focus of this year’s teacher development days before school starts, about 450 teachers and staff at Clayton High School attended sessions on, yes, technology, but also sessions on any number of things that revolved around the theme that day — innovation.

The district-wide program addressed everything from “purposeful play” to “From zero to hero with Chromebooks” to “AR in the classroom through Aurasma,” a session on the advancement of QR codes and how Aurasma, an augmented reality application, allows students to overlay videos and images. Teachers are asked, “How can you expand an interactive word wall? How can journaling and newspapers come to life?”

This fall, the district is implementing the second phase of its new technology plan, increasing devices in all of the buildings so students get familiar with them, said district spokesman Chris Tennill.

“August of 2018, every student who walks through this door, we give them a Chromebook to take with them and use through the year.”

High schoolers will keep the device with them all year long; middle schoolers will each have a Chromebook but it will not go home with them at the end of the day.

“This is a transition year so they all get used to them,” he said. “The majority of our classes will go to online textbooks.”

The Chromebooks are stored in lockers, which also charge the devices and allow teachers to take them to their classrooms.

Tennill says the district approved the purchase plan last Spring, and buying the equipment is just “the cost of doing business”. Garganiga added that purchasing and using Chromebooks was the most fiscally conservative choice while still overcoming three barriers: access, organization, and mobility.

“We have to look at the world that these kids are going out into after they leave these halls,” Tennill said. “We need to start equipping them with the tools that they are going to need in college and after that, because that’s the marketplace they’re going to need to compete in.”

“And it’s not just buying 800 Chrome books, it’s maintaining them,” he said. “They have a life cycle as well.”

As we walk by different classrooms, the voices of those leading various sessions stream out into the hall: “We are a high performing district. How do we even get better? … to go outside of that model, it’s scary. How do we get them to be motivated by learning by giving them the power? And that’s scary. The other thing that’s scary about it as an educator, we are often thinking about all those other things that are impacting our classroom…”

In another classroom, teachers were talking about “clickers.”

“It’s just a program where students will have their own card and they’ll hold it a certain way, and then you’ll take your iPad around and scan it, so it’s just a quick assessment piece. I like it for the elementary level because some of our kids have trouble with fine motor skills and writing their words together.”

Other teachers talked about using the Chromebooks to do graphing in math classes, or using them to do social note-taking in literature courses.

Several teachers expressed concerns about how they can monitor learning when every student has a screen in front of them.

“That really is a conversation about pedagogy and how you teach,” Garganiga said. “If they’re surfing the internet while you’re teaching, what’s the reason behind that and how do we change our practice to address that.”

When asked if some of the teachers were phobic about stepping up technology in their classrooms, Garganiga said, “Definitely.”

“We have people all across the board,” she said. “Some are out in front, leading the way, we have people who are learning, and opportunities like this allow people to learn … then we have some people who will struggle. It’s our job as administrators to help support them with what kind of learning they will need.”

There is also an educational technologist in every building, she said, to lead the integration of technology in the classroom and work side by side with teachers.

How do you trust students to not misuse them?

“That’s one of the conversations we’ve had with the technology curriculum committee,” Garganiga said. “The focus on digital citizenship needs to be a focus for all of us. So it’s not just a technology teachers’ role to talk to kids about their digital use, to talk to kids about what their digital footprint looks like. It’s really all of our responsibility.

Rows of lockers filled with hundreds of Chromebooks await teachers and students to put them to use.

Garganiga said building in opportunities and lessons for students, addressing situations when they come up, is the best practice.

“One of the things I don’t think is a good practice is just completely locking them out, because it doesn’t teach them,” she said. “They’re going to have the tools, most of our kids already have phones. How do we help them to use it, to think before they post, and building those lessons in — teach them the different disciplines and what is their role in that.”

Students start the school year Tuesday, Aug. 14.

(Photos by Jessica Machetta.)

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