Technology takes spotlight at Engage Tahoma

Technology takes spotlight at Engage Tahoma
Posted on 05/03/2019
Technology can be used to help students achieve essential outcomes – and some staff members are already using technology to help inspire students. However, those methods are not used consistently throughout the district, due to the failure of the technology levy and the need for a new tech plan. Washington state provides very little money for technology in its basic education funding, leaving it up to individual school districts to fund raise through local levies.

Parents, community members and staff who attended the first of two Engage Tahoma sessions about classroom technology this week heard an update about how the district currently uses technology and got a glimpse of what is envisioned for the future. Until a technology levy is approved by voters, there are no funds available for additional student computers, refreshing existing devices or to maintain the technology staffing levels that existed before the levy failure last February.

The School Board decided after the failed levy to step back and conduct a Technology Model Review. During the model review, the group of 43 staff, parents, community members and students talked a lot about the kinds of supports that students need, said Kimberly Allison, coordinator for Instructional Technology and Future Ready Skills.

“We are not (using) technology for technology’s sake,” Allison said, emphasizing that sometimes the best tool for a certain exercise might be something simple such as Post-it Notes. Rather, technology is one of many supports that Tahoma invests in – and staff members look for authentic ways to use technology to empower deep learning.

The Technology Model work will be brought to the School Board for review and approval soon. It has three core values that will be kept at the center of all discussions and decisions about technology:

*Access: Students and staff have the tools, skills, and opportunities to leverage technology to improve learning and productivity. Example: While we know what type of access students have at school, they don’t always have the same access at home.

*Equity: The diverse and particular needs of different students, staff members, classrooms, and buildings are supported in an equitable way.

*Sustainability: Technology decisions are made considering identified aspects of sustainability and align to district goals and priorities. Example: We use a sophisticated system of cameras and monitors paid for by 2013 bond dollars to help keep students and staff safe. That system will need to be refreshed on a regular cycle, and would be paid for out of technology levy dollars.

When the technology levy failed, district administrators reduced the number of staff in technology positions and cut spending.

“We have not refreshed anything,” said Dawn Wakeley, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for the district. Looking at the current age of computers across the district, 43 percent are five years old, 11 percent are four years old, 19 percent are three years old and 27 percent are two years old, Wakeley said. In many cases, this results in slow devices that cut into the day for students and teachers.

“As we think about those precious instructional minutes ... we really worry about the loss of learning time,” she said.

At the end of Tuesday’s session, a Maple View Middle School student, who attended with his mother, said he wanted to share that students have certainly noticed the computers not working well and that students vie for the computers that work better.

The district has 13.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in operational technology positions to support 8,843 computers, 555 iPads, 500 instructional stations at 11 sites. The 8,843 computers include 7,860 student computers and 983 staff computers. The computers were purchased in 2014 through 2017.

Tahoma also employs 1.5 FTE instructional technology support staff, to support 532 certificated staff, 204 paraeducators, and 61 secretaries/administrative assistants. “I would say we are grossly understaffed connected to that, and we’ve never been richly staffed,” Wakeley said.

Allison also highlighted a few of the ways that teachers and staff members use technology to enhance education across the district, via video interviews. Those examples included:

* Rock Creek teacher Brandon Betlach talked about how having one Chromebook or Netbook per student to use Google Classroom and Google docs has enhanced his students’ collaboration and peer feedback specific to exact sections of student work. “It’s really meaningful; adds a different set of eyes,” Betlach said. “They love doing that – they love becoming the teacher.” He described other benefits of technology, such as the “Plickers” program, and using iPads for coding. In the future, Betlach said he would like to increase the use of multimedia tools in the classroom. “Students are visual learners. How can we get away from just me talking and (reading) text?”

*Four students from Megan Krise and Haley Moser’s health and fitness class at Tahoma Elementary talked about a pilot program that they used earlier this year, using heart rate monitors to project each class member’s heart rate on the board (listed by number, not by name). The students said the monitors and display were both interesting and inspiring.

*Tahoma High School Future Ready Specialist Lara Lindersmith spoke about how students create and maintain one or more four-year (high school) plans online, with the capability of dragging and dropping different courses, as well as comparing estimated homework load, graduation requirements, pathways and so on. Additionally, students use an online career planner to research potential careers, identify fields they are interested in and what schools offer programs for those careers.

Wakeley also spoke to where the district is headed now related to technology: The 26-member Technology Advisory Committee is working to create the 2025 Tech Plan based on the model work. The plan will outline expectations such as what technologies will be used by which teachers (until now much of the work has been invitational, not expected). It will address curriculum and instruction, methods for measurement, accountability and access.

“We’re really trying to be mindful about what will it take for us to achieve the goals that we want to achieve,” she said.

The second session of the two-part Engage Tahoma segment on Classroom Technology will be at 6 p.m. on May 20 at the Central Services Center.

To view a video of the June 30 session, click here.
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