Cutting edge technology

Editor’s note: These articles are the second of a three-part series on the implementation of technology in Hamilton County schools.

On any given day at Stratford Community School, one can see students working on projects on digital tablets, teachers illustrating a problem on a smart board and children working on green screen video presentations. That’s just tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology at this school.

Of course, the district seems to have been on the cutting edge of technology as far back as the late 1980s when the school received a Carver Trust Fund grant. The district invested that money in a full bank of MacIntosh computers.

“Back then, that was a huge deal,” said Lisa Schaa, an instructor at Stratford Community Schools who also oversees the technology program there.

Then a few years ago, Stratford Community School was approached by the Area Education Association to take on a pilot project that involved using smart phones

The AEA partnered with the school to fund the smart phone learning program by paying for the data usage.

“That was a huge amount of money that we didn’t have to put out, ” she said.

That pilot project convinced Schaa and the school administration that they needed to move forward with technology throughout all the grade levels..

“We realized we’ve got to do something like this in all the classrooms,” she said. The smart phones were initiated in the third and fourth grade. The program lasted for a couple of years.

Schaa credits her superintendent, Sarah Binder, for having the foresight and enthusiasm to develop new ways of learning for the children.

“From my perspective, it all comes down to your administration. It’s really helpful if the administration is willing to try something new. Sarah (Binder) is always looking for ways we can make education better,” she said.

Google vs. iPad

Schaa kept her eye on technology developments as time went on. The school was using desktop computers and then laptops. But last year, the district decided add tablet devices. The cost of purchasing iPads proved to be prohibitive for the school, but Schaa said Google tablets offered a cost-effective alternative.

“We could get three of the tablets for the cost of one iPad,” she said.

Now, each grade level has its own bank of tablets. This fall, the school added Chromebooks, Google laptop product that she said paired nicely with the tablets.

“And again, price was a consideration there,” she said. “We have Google tablets and Chromebooks in the fifth and sixth grade classes.”

Students in third grade on up are allowed to take the tablets home to work on homework and projects – that is after a few lessons on how to care for the devices. And parents are asked to take some responsibility as well by signing an acknowledgement that they are responsible to replace the unit if it is damaged.

Schaa said that desktop computers won’t be going away quite yet, but as students save work and projects to Google Drive, the storage of a hard drive becomes less necessary.

Schaa said that while some instructors think that concept will create more work, what they actually find as a benefit is it’s a step closer to being paperless. For example, a teacher can send an assignment to each student by using Google Drive. The students can access the assignment on their tablets. Another benefits is the students work is time-stamped as it automatically saves work periodically.

“So the teacher can actually see how much time the student spent on the project,” she said. “It’s actually better for on-task learning with the kids.”

Sandbox nights

With a full day of teaching, lesson planning and other tasks, learning new technology can be overwhelming at times. To help that, the Stratford school administration and board of education authorized one night a month with pay so teachers can have a time to learn. To remedy that, each month, the teachers at Stratford gather for “sandbox night,” a chance to learn and try out new applications and technology.

Schaa said today’s students are tech savvy. They have grown up with cell phones, smart phones, laptops and now tablets.

“Things are not going to go back to the way they were when their parents and grandparents were in school,” she said. “If anything, its only going to get more sophisticated. We’ve just got to get everyone on board.”