By the time each student receives a Chromebook this fall, teachers in a Wisconsin school district will be comfortable with the devices so they can focus on curriculum.
At least, that's what the Fond du Lac School District hopes will happen. The district of about 7,300 students pulled four teachers out of the classroom this year to form a technology team that's spent the school year working with educators.
The four instructional technology integration specialists on this team created a website with videos, Chromebook apps and other resources for teachers. Along with the website, teachers make appointments for one-on-one sessions with the specialists on Tuesdays.
"We are one-on-one with the teachers on their own time, on their own turf, in their classrooms, and it has really worked out well," said Mike Jaber, one of the instructional technology integration specialists.
This year, the school board mandated that every teacher report to work an hour earlier at 7 a.m. so they could work on some things the board wanted them to focus on. The technology team lobbied for some of that time and earned a slot on three mornings to do technology-related professional development.
The team started off this year by asking teachers what they were good at, what they wanted to be good at and how the team could help them. Once the specialists found out where teachers were at, they built training programs to get them where the teachers wanted to go.
In phase one, Dan Sitter, Nicole Mashock, Renee Nolan and Jaber focused the training on Google Apps, using five levels of ability within different applications to demonstrate teacher progress.
"We tried to move everybody up that ladder so that next year when all the kids are living in a Google Apps suite environment, the teachers are able to function on the same plane," Sitter said.
In the fall, every student at Fond du Lac High School will receive a Chromebook, which resembles a laptop, but primarily runs Web apps. Those devices will number more than 2,000.
For the past five years, Fond du Lac has been working toward giving every student a device. That plan included amping up wireless and bandwidth, moving to Google Apps for Education and preparing teachers to integrate the Chromebooks into their classrooms.
"They have to be totally comfortable with what they're doing, otherwise our efforts are going to be useless," said Jeff Ruedinger, technical coordinator for computer services.
Along with creating the technology integration team, the district is piloting 250 Chromebooks, the first device that Ruedinger said he got excited about. With an IT staff of five that would have to manage more than 2,000 devices, he needed a device that was more or less self-sufficient. When two of the instructional technology integration specialists told him about the Chromebook, he found that the device fit the bill.
The device's battery lasts for eight to nine hours, the operating system automatically updates and it integrates well with Google Docs. Other devices that the district tried required workarounds to use Google Docs. And of the 250 devices used in the pilot, the IT staff has only had to touch three. That's not the case with other devices, Ruedinger said.
Another specialist had been pushing iPads as the device for the district. But he changed his mind when he realized that there was more flexibility with the Chromebook.
"My iPad has dust on it now because I have been doing everything on the Chromebook," Jaber said.
But this model doesn't just focus on specific devices and resources. Curriculum drives everything the district does. And both the curriculum and technology departments work closely on initiatives like this.
"Simply giving kids any kind of a one-to-one device — whether it be an iPad, laptop, Chromebook, whatever — really isn't going to produce any change in student behavior or student performance if we continue to do exactly what we've been doing in the past," said John Whitsett, coordinator of curriculum, instruction and assessment. "We just make everything more expensive instead."
The work that the technology team is doing with teachers is important because it's changing the way they deliver curriculum and assess students, he said.
Ruedinger added, "Technology has to be totally integrated with curriculum, otherwise it won't work at all."
With this technology team's professional development efforts, the district hopes to give teachers confidence as they create an environment where students are excited about learning at school.
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