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District moves forward with new technology

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In an effort to better prepare students for an increasingly tech-savvy world, Red Wing Public Schools will introduce 345 Chromebooks into elementary classrooms this fall with the hope it doesn’t fall prey to mistakes made in a number of school districts across the nation.

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Over the last school year, eight teachers rotated four types of devices through their classrooms for a technology pilot to help ensure the decisions the district made did not come back to haunt them in the years to come.

Kevin Johnson, director of grounds, facilities and technology, said many districts are making the push to integrate technology into classrooms and there was a concerted effort in Red Wing to make sure the district knew what it could support before making any big decisions.

A new way to teach

Director of Teaching and Learning Joe Jezierski said one of the biggest challenges moving forward is getting teachers comfortable with incorporating technology into their classrooms.

“We need teachers to help the teachers teach because, I’ll be honest, even our teachers who are coming out brand new aren’t being taught how to teach with technology as much as we would like,” Jezierski said.

If a device doesn’t work quickly and easily for a teacher, he added, or students have a hard time using it, the technology will simply not be used.

Jezierski said it’s important for the district to be mindful in the implementation of new technology with the understanding that no one device – just as no one textbook – can take the place of good teaching.

One adjustment, he said, will be for staff to recognize they might need to reach out to students for help with technology playing a larger role in classes.

“One of the things we have to do as a staff is we have to be comfortable not being the expert in the room,” Jezierski said.

Impact to infrastructure

Burnside and Sunnyside elementary schools will be wired with wireless network access points in each classroom over the summer at a cost of around $45,000 to accommodate the influx in number of devices next year, Johnson said.

Twin Bluff Middle School and Red Wing High School were rewired over the last couple years to provide all classrooms access points and, after evaluating how the first year goes with devices in all elementary classes, Johnson said it might be necessary to go through and provide a second access point in classrooms districtwide at a cost of upwards of $125,000.

Even with each elementary class set to receive six Chromebooks in the fall the district is not adding any technology staff, something the district needs to be conscious of, Jezierski said.

Mike Pagel, TBMS math teacher who participated in the pilot, will split his time next year between teaching and working with technology integration across the district. Jezierski said he’s hoping Pagel can be the go-to guy when problems arise.

Johnson said also must consider other aspects of adding more devices. For example, adding more circuits and smart charging carts to ensure no circuits are blown while devices are charging at night.

Moving forward

Jezierski said the goal of the pilot was to find the best fit for RWPS, not to end up with a device for every student, and he’s excited for the possibilities of expanding the options the district has for technology.

Next year, the district is scheduled to rewrite its technology plan, which will be a big step toward locking down a concrete plan and end goal for ramping up its use of technology.

Part of the district’s job is to teach students to be respectful and responsible with technology, Jezierski said, along with making sure Red Wing graduates enter either college or the workforce with the knowledge required in today’s world.

“We’re doing our students a disservice if we don’t start getting them more tech savvy,” he said.

About the pilot

Chromebooks, iPads, Nexus tablets and LearnPads were tested as part of the pilot and participating teachers had each device for approximately six weeks.

The Chromebooks were the top-rated devices at the high school and middle school, with the iPad the highest rated at Burnside Elementary and the LearnPad at Sunnyside. The Chromebook came in second at both elementary schools and the iPad was second at the middle and high schools.

The district also plans to purchase 210 Chromebooks for the new teacher evaluation process and will spend over $100,000 bringing the nearly 600 devices into schools next year, Director of Teaching and Learning Joe Jezierski said. The money comes from a combination of federal Title I funds, approximately $20,000 from the district’s elementary Parent Advisory Council and other money budgeted for technology.

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