The Morning Sun

GIRARD — Technology has been a big push around USD 248 Girard, and on Wednesday the district offered an opportunity for the public to see what those investments look like in action.

Digital Learning Day was celebrated nationwide on Feb. 5, but due to slick roads USD 248 canceled classes that day and rescheduled its open house for Feb. 12.

Technology displayed ranged from the iPad Minis provided for each student at the middle school and high school levels as well as wireless setups, remote learning opportunities and more.

As guests walked through each building, they got to sit in on live classes, with teachers offering a bit of insight on how the technology was being used.

Math teacher Nate Clevenger said his eighth-grade class was preparing for a test the next day through working different types of problems in small groups, then taking photos of the work to share with classmates.

"In the past we would have had to do them as an entire group," Clevenger said, adding that the small group practice is helpful for students and provides a new way to study. "This is something new I've started in the past two to three weeks."

Kim Pitts' eighth-grade science class showed how the technology can be handy as class members prepare parts of the lesson plan and then present to the entire class.

Students also ran into a few hitches with some of the connectivity between the iPad Minis and projector, but demonstrated the many levels of back-up options offered by the technology, including the ability to e-mail the presentation to the teacher's computer and carry on forward.

"The students can e-mail the teachers and the teachers can e-mail the students. The students just can't e-mail each other," Pitts said.

Rick Duling, director of technology for USD 248, said even several months into the implementation of 1:1 iPad Minis at the middle school and high school levels, there are occasional challenges, but that overall feedback has been very positive.

"One of the advantages we’ve seen since we went 1:1 was cost savings in paper and printouts," he said.

Rather than papers, books, notebooks and other traditional supplies, the school uses eBackpack and the students and teachers are able to submit documents back and forth, with a total of 90,000 submissions so far this year, saving approximately 30,000 printouts.

Even beyond the cost-saving, Duling said the devices have correlated with less discipline and students staying on task better.

"I think it’s good in several ways," he said. "It has been successful."

Mary Kate Smith, an eighth-grade student helping with tours at Girard Middle School, said she has enjoyed the way technology is changing education.

"I think I like that all your homework and books are in one place and you don't have to carry around different things," she said.

She said the use of apps such as Notability and time to get used to the devices has helped them become very well-liked.

"At first it was difficult to get used to them, but we're halfway through the year," Smith said. "I feel like it's a lot easier with them."

Smith said one of her favorite places where the iPads have been integrated is in Megan Stoneberger's eighth-grade English class.

"We do a lot with the iPads in these classes," Stoneberger said. "We use Google Drive a lot."

She said one of the advantages there is that as students compose drafts teachers are able to provide comments and feedback in real-time.

Additionally, Google Drive is available on any device, so students could log into it on a home computer or other work station, as well as on their iPads.

Other apps also make learning fun.

"There's cool tools and tricks that I couldn't have done before," Stoneberger said.

In her media elective class, for example, students can learn about advertising techniques and then make a movie with iMovie to apply what they've learned.

Many of the same apps used at the middle school level also are familiar for staff and students at Girard High School.

"One way we use them is through Edmodo," said teacher Robyn O’Malley. "They go there directly, and a lot of times it will do part of the grading."

O’Malley said organization also is improved.

"We have a lot of handouts, so they used to have a huge notebook," she said. "Now they can access that through eBackpack."

Wednesday, her students took a test that partially was administered by Edmodo and partially within the classroom.

Upon finishing her test, senior Carly Heatherly said she wishes she could have had the technology through more of high school, but has enjoyed it this year.

"I think it’s a lot more efficient because we always have a place to turn in our homework," she said.

She said it also helps clarify assignments and expectations.

"We know ahead of time," she said. "Edmodo always has the lesson plans for us."

She also cited Notability and the reduced paper clutter as helpful benefits.

"I think in one year it’s changed so much," Heatherly said of her educational experience, adding that she anticipates continues to study technology and information systems at Pittsburg State University.

The district also now uses Vidyo technology to allow students to take courses remotely or so that its teachers can teach classes for other educational locations.

"Girard has been a solution for two schools who needed a class," said Lisa Blair, director of student instruction at the Greenbush Education Service Center. "The technology Girard is using is by far the latest technology."

Many of the plans to prepare for the new technology have been in the works for awhile.

"We started upgrading our network in 2011," Duling said, adding that at that point the district knew it was interested in going 1:1, but wasn’t sure which device would be used.

"We chose the Mini for the simple reason we were able to put it in more students’ hands," he said.

However, price wasn’t the only topic of conversation.

Duling said one concern when the district was preparing to launch the devices was Internet adequacy, but that they got help from a neighboring business.

"Craw-Kan allowed us to open up and have a large band of pipe," he said. "They worked with us closely."

That extra bandwidth for two or three months allowed the students to get their iPad Minis up and running, download needed apps and do other setup work without the school maxing out its Internet.

Girard High School Todd Ferguson said all-told the transition has been smooth.

"The challenges are just the unexpected things that catch you off guard," he said, adding that overall it has helped teachers and organization.

Ferguson said the district will continue to consider where to go now, including looking at digital textbooks and more.

Duling said students will turn their iPad Minis in at the end of the year, but have an incentive to take care of them, because they will be reissued the same unit next year, with the district purchasing a few extra to supplement its supply, as needed.

"Overall, it will be a small investment in year two," he said.