Editor’s note: A video of the school board’s April 3 meeting is available for viewing online at www.cibolabeacon.com/multimedia/video.
GRANTS - If you have ever questioned what a “futuristic virtual classroom” could be like, you need go no further than looking in your backyard at the Grants/Cibola County Schools (G/CCS) District.
The district’s technology team shared information about their work at April 3 school board meeting.
“Our kids are not going to be pencil-and-paper kids anymore,” said Karen Henry, district technology department director.
Terms used in the presentation, like PowerSchool, NEO computers and SharePoint, may not be common expressions for many in the audience. But, the most bemusing term was “C.O.W.S,” computers on wheels, which is a cart with a number of computers.
“Technology is a huge piece of where we are going,” said Edwina Trujillo, Milan Elementary School principal.
Technology team members including Henry, staff and students spoke about the highlights of their work and how technology will play a role in the district’s future.
David Saavedra and Johnny Aguilar, Los Alamitos Middle School students, shared their ideas about technology’s benefits.
The department director explained that the students’ visions were key, and that their ideas were part of the group’s overall scope of work.
“You don’t need to buy textbooks or school supplies. Everything you need is in your computer,” said one student. “With these savings you will have more money for other academic and extra-curriculum activities.”
“Technology is something that the kids are interested in,” said the middle school student.
“So getting students to use technology would be easy, because they are already doing it. If you need a text book you can just download one onto your computer, in the form of an ‘app.’”
The student continued, “Kids will no longer have an excuse for losing their homework. They will also be able to keep track of their grades.”
“What these students are talking about, is one-on-one computer usage and having electronic textbooks,” explained Henry. “This is going to be a major shift in the way that we are doing education right now.”
Ellen MacDonald, Grants High School teacher, said she has been researching the ways schools across the county are using technology in the classroom. One of these is electronic textbooks.
“With the way the country is moving toward core curriculum, the textbooks we are using now may be useless,” said Henry. “We must begin to look at the methods that we are using to deliver curriculum to students.”
Mario Marquez, Bluewater and San Rafael Elementary Schools’ principal, spoke about the benefits of electronic grade books.
Marquez said that, as an administrator, he is able to assess what the teachers are doing. He can look at the lesson plans and how they mesh with the teacher’s grading system.
The benefits for the parents are “huge,” according to the principal.
With PowerSchool, a system used to share information among students, teachers and parents, “There have been 25,000 hits. Parents stayed on-line an average of one half-hour or more, indicating that they are using the technology,” said Marquez.
“What I like about the software, is that it provides direct communications with the teacher,” said the principal.
Henry pointed out that the technology department has been helping teachers by providing in-service training and tutorials on such software as PowerSchool, which is used to post student grades and other things.
Trujillo spoke about the popularity of the NEO computers at her school, which she referred as “phenomenal.” First graders are using them to learn to keyboard.
“With the use of a NEO, a teacher can ask a question and poll the children and have a discussion about the answer,” she explained.
Trujillo also spoke about the popularity of after-school open computer labs. Parents and students work together at the lab using subject tutorials. She related one story in which a parent came into the lab and met with a teacher to get help for her child on a subject that the youngster found especially challenging.
Trujillo said she has seen rapid technological advancements in the past few years. She noted that three years ago, “It took a half-hour to get on the Internet.”
SharePoint is a web-based collaborative software program where users can share documents, and gain access to them at school and at home. The program has sites at every district school. Teachers are using the software to share information about curriculum development, according to district officials.
Tawnya Thayer, a parent who has children attending Mount Taylor Elementary School, said her youngsters have so much fun using the NEOs and seem more excited about math. “I hear them getting C.O.W.S. in the classroom and laughing about that funny name,” Thayer said.
Henry pointed out that the district faces a number of challenges in implementing technology, and these revolve around costs, one-on-one computing, outdated computer equipment and core curriculum.
“Everything I mentioned is going to take dollars,” said the technology director. “Technology doesn’t generate money.”
The director said the district needs to define what one-on-one computing means. “Does it mean putting a computer in each student’s hands?” she asked and estimated that this initiative would cost around $2 million.
Henry indicated that when she came to G/CCDS five years ago, the district had 1,200 computers, which about five years old, on the network. She predicted that the computers would need to be replaced within the next five years.
On-line testing will be mandated in the 2014-2015 school year. The district will begin practice runs on implementing the testing in October, according to Henry.
“The roads are coming together with the on-line text books, teacher evaluations and common core curriculum,” she said.
Henry commented that she believes the board has a big decision to make - whether they want to continue down this path, and if so, how they will come up with the funds.