Pilot project allows more technology in local schools

The Valley Banner

ELKTON – Some local middle schoolers are getting wired… in a good way.

Rockingham County Public Schools is in the first year of a 5-year wireless pilot project.

Eight middle school teachers have been given a set of iPads, MacBook Air laptops or Google Chromebooks to use in their classrooms.

In eastern Rockingham County, three teachers at Elkton Middle School and two at Montevideo Middle School were selected for the program, which Superintendent Carol Fenn said was competitive. Teachers submitted proposals which went through a rigorous review process.

So far the teachers and students seem to love it, including Anita Wayland, a seventh-grade biology teacher at Montevideo. Her classes got 30 MacBook Air laptops and spend 70 to 80 percent of their class time using them, she said.

Students use the computers for daily checkups with, a program that asks 10-25 review questions. Students answer on their laptops and then see them compiled on a screen in the classroom in seconds.

“It’s faster to get our work done,” said Ashley Schoenhardt, one of Wayland’s students. “It’s more efficient. I really appreciate having them. It’s fun.”

Students can collaborate on projects in real time, she said.

Katie Ameigh was one of three instructional technology resource teachers the district hired to help implement the project. She travels to schools across the district assisting teachers in using the technology.
21st century tool

“Our goal is to have a 21st century tool available when it fits the need in the classroom,” she said. “I’ve seen it really transform the way teachers are teaching and the way students are learning.”

Wayland notes that the computers aren’t taking the place of direct teaching. “I’m trying to incorporate the best teaching techniques from both worlds,” she said.

Evidence from Mooresville, N.C., showed that students who began using wireless devices in elementary school and recently graduated improved their test scores, Wayland said. Mooresville was one of the first school divisions to successfully implement a plan to provide wireless devices to each of its students.

“The students work at a higher level of thinking and more collaboratively,” Ameigh said. “When their work is digital, they have easier ways of showing off their work publicly.” This, she believes, results in students producing higher quality work and thinking more critically because they know it’s going to be on display.

Wayland’s class, for example, has its own web page, Schoenhardt showed some videos that her classmates made of creatures for a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, activity. That work can be seen on the class website.

Elkton Middle School
Myron Brubaker’s eighth grade science classes at Elkton Middle School use Google Chromebooks.

“I can organize my classroom in Google Docs and kids can go on there at any time to check on their assignments,” he said.

Students can record data on their laptops instantly, which is really helpful for science. They also use their laptops to make bar graphs for their experiments.

The computers make it possible for Brubaker to do remediation quickly.

“I can correct their learning immediately instead of waiting to correct it with paper and pencil,” he said. “From my desk I can go into every student’s working document and see how they’re progressing.”

In addition, students don’t have as many distractions when using their laptops, Brubaker said.

Luke Roadcap, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Elkton Middle School, also uses Chromebooks in his classes.

“They enjoy it. They are engaged in their learning. I feel like I’m teaching individuals instead of as a group,” he said, adding that he is able to give more individualized instruction.

More learning strategies
“I’ve used more learning strategies than before in a traditional classroom setting,” he said.

“Every day there is seemingly something new I can use,” he said, noting that technology is constantly changing. “We’re seeing what works and what doesn’t. Everything has its pros and cons,” he said, but strategies can be tweaked for improvement.

Rockingham County Public Schools spent $756,000 to buy the laptops and expand the wireless capability at four middle schools for the first year of the project. Another $517,000 was budgeted for professional development, including hiring three instructional technology resource teachers and three computer resource technicians, Fenn said.

The district is looking for financial support from the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and local businesses for subsequent years of the program, she said.

RCPS plans to expand the pilot project to high schools next year.

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