Access to technology engages students
Access to technology engages students and builds confidence
Posted on 02/26/2020
Access to technology engages students and builds confidence

No matter how we feel about technology, one thing is certain: It is here to stay, and it continues to change the world in which we live.

Technology is used to enhance student learning at every level in the district, and it begins in the early grades. Kindergartners draw on interactive smartboards at the front of the classroom to demonstrate lessons to classmates. Second graders use math programs that can adjust to their level of learning. Fifth graders use digital pens with laptops to record answers for class assignments and submit them electronically.

Carson Elementary

When it comes to the use of technology in the classroom, the district’s philosophy is very clear: Technology is not used for the sake of technology, and it needs to be age appropriate. “It is a tool to extend cognitive development, accelerate learning, and encourage ‘academic grit’ — the perseverance for long-term goals. We choose our learning tools based on these principals,” says Mark Vetter, Executive Director of Instructional Technology.

The way students learn has changed. The amount of information and the amount of knowledge in the world is growing exponentially. “Realistically, it’s not about remembering facts — it’s knowing how to go get the facts and to verify them. So, we need to teach our kids to be consumers of information, and researchers, not just accept what they learn.,” says Vetter.

Students are not the only ones who are being impacted. Technology is changing how teachers manage student data and how lessons are taught in the classroom. Professional Development sessions are offered through digital platforms, enabling teachers to learn from the comfort of their classrooms. For families, communication with teachers and access to their student’s information is just a keystroke away.

A visit to elementary classrooms

Recent visits to classrooms shed light on how the district is using technology in the elementary schools, how it complements other types of learning, and how it is impacting students’ education.

One example is the newly adopted Pre-K – 5th mathematics curriculum: Bridges in Mathematics 2nd Edition from Math Learning Center. It was piloted during the 2018-2019 school year and adopted in all elementary schools for the 2019-20 school year. Bridges in Mathematics lessons combine technology, hands-on learning, and group interaction to engage, challenge students, and measure their academic needs and success. Curriculum includes teacher materials with online teacher resources, math manipulatives, engaging activities to practice mathematical concepts, practice workbooks, and daily group exercises in ‘Number Corner.’

Ridgecrest second graderThe very first thing Ridgecrest second grade teacher Lizzie Herrera did was open the teacher materials and upload all of it to OneNote, a Microsoft program used districtwide for information gathering and multiuser collaboration. Then, she shared it with every second-grade teacher in the district. Next, she worked with district leaders to transfer the Bridges curriculum for grades K-5 from the binders to online access in OneNote. The curriculum is now in one place, organized and easy to find for classroom instruction. She led several professional development sessions in her classroom and also offered virtual professional learning with video presentations.

The reason the district adoption committee made the decision to adopt Bridges in Math 2nd Edition related directly to the integration of technology with mathematics:

•  Grade level units are in full alignment to state math standards; the previous math curriculum was not in alignment with standards.
•  Instruction using digital resources is more engaging for students.
•  Measurements of student success are more precise with faster feedback for intervention when using the assessment data tools provided by Math Learning Center.
•  Electronic family communication about upcoming math concepts is built into the curriculum.

“This math curriculum is extremely engaging for students. This curriculum highlights the intelligence and strengths of ALL students in our elementary classrooms. One student told me recently, ‘I love math now!’ To see students talking to each other, puzzling over challenges, articulating strategies for solving problems, and interacting digitally with number lines or building area models on their laptops; math classrooms have changed from when I was in school! This curriculum equips teachers to teach in a manner that is rigorous, coherent, engaging, and accessible for all learners, using a combination of direct instruction, structured investigations, and open exploration. We see students developing deep understanding of mathematical concepts, proficiency with key skills, and solving complex and novel problems.
Heather McMullen, Director of Instructional Leadership, Math & Science K-12.

In Jennifer Matthew’s fifth grade classroom at Carson Elementary, each student is assigned a laptop with a digital pen to record their work electronically. The teacher’s laptop is projected to the front of the classroom. While working on a story problem, students volunteer different scenarios that would help them reach the same conclusion.

What this addition of Bridges is having fifth graders do is setting them up well for the years ahead. Using Number Corner gives our students an introduction into concepts that come up in later units and that helps them feel a lot more comfortable and confident. I have taught math without using technology in past years, but I feel like having this technology has opened up a lot more opportunities during lessons,” says Matthews.

Number Corner is an interactive bulletin board used in a group setting that revolves around the classroom calendar, providing skills practice as well as continual encounters with broader mathematical concepts.

Spinning ElementarySophia Monge’s fourth grade class at Spinning Elementary presented a perfect example of using technology for a math lesson and then gathering around the class calendar for the Number Corner lesson.

•  With computers the students were using a Geoboard to show how they could partition a shape in different ways to represent equivalent fractions.
•  In the first activity, ‘3 Quarters a Day’ for Number Corner, the students were adding $.75 each day and then talking about what fraction on of a dollar that equals, and what the representation is with decimals. (The way in which we actually represent dollars in writing).
•  In the calendar collector portion of Number Corner, they were observing and analyzing different shapes on a 4 x 4 grid and determining what the area of the shape is in square units. Many of the shapes filled half of a square, which then required them to add fractional units.

“The common theme that tied all three of these activities together is fractions. On the computers they are representing equivalent fractions, and with the Number Corner activities they are identifying and writing fractional units but talking about how they are represented in different ways… money, area, improper fractions, and mixed numbers,” said Monge.

When asked about the use of technology games for learning, Vetter said the district is very clear. “Our stance, Instructional Leadership and Educational Technology, is we do not believe in the gamification of education. Gaming is okay for rote learning, such as flash cards or learning multiplication. Rote learning is ‘yes, you are correct 2 + 2 = 4.’ Well, the world isn’t right or wrong, there’s a whole bunch of gray, so when you develop a bunch of more sophisticated questions, you don’t just take the first answer.”

Recognizing that students at different ages have different learning needs, and technology is limited to appropriate lessons that engage students and accelerate them to deeper learning. As a parent herself, Herrera says she is aware of the concerns about ‘too much screen time.’ “Kids need to know how to write. We don’t do everything on the computer, but typing is also important these days — you send emails, you don’t send letters.”

We use a lot of math manipulatives that do not involve technology. Books are another thing. The hands-on, real stuff is always exciting,” says Matthews.

Equity: Access to technology for all students

When it comes to technology and digital tools, Empowering Puyallup is a district initiative that provides equity and access for all students. The initiative began in 2016 with the goal to provide a 1:1 computer for every student in grades 4-12. In the fall 2019 the goal was met.

Students in grades 7-12 can take their computer home with them at the end of the day to continue their studies. Student in grades 4-6 have a laptop computer assigned to them for daily use at school under the guidance of the teachers. Grades K-3 share carts of computers between 4 classrooms.

The district does not assume that all students have access to technology outside of the classroom. Grades Pre-K through sixth are provided paper copies of homework and any other documentation that needs to go home.

“Technology is benefiting students by giving them access to accommodations. Everyone has the access, and that makes it less isolating because they aren't the only one (or the few) with something "special" to help out. I have a student who hates writing because it a personal struggle, but the student is a fantastic storyteller and really does know how to give well explained extended responses. Using speech to text has helped with that barrier and has spiked the student’s confidence in just a few short months,” says Matthews.

Nancy French
frenchnl@puyallup.k12.wa.us