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Murray School District grant gives teachers a boost in digital teaching

Oct 04, 2017 10:06AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Six Parkside Elementary teachers were among those who received the Murray School District Digital Teaching and Learning Grant. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Parkside Elementary fourth-graders in teacher Sheri Biel’s class have a Chromebook they can pull out to use for individualized lessons in math and language arts, thanks to the Digital Teaching and Learning Grant provided by Murray School District.

Biel, along with 24 other elementary teachers — including five others at Parkside — and eight secondary teachers, received Chromebooks for their classrooms, training on how to implement the devices, and ongoing technology support throughout the year.

“Students today have been born into a digital world,” Biel said. “Most of them are using phones or tablets before they can read. They are digital citizens. Students need to learn how these tools (will help) in their learning and in life, and also how to use them wisely and safely.”

Since the beginning of the school year, Biel’s students have used the Chromebooks for iReady lessons, which are geared at the level for each student to gain knowledge in math and language arts. 

“It has been amazing to have this cart right in my classroom. I teach in a portable. Last year when I had to push the cart from a room in the school out to the portable, it was a difficult task. The convenience to equipment in the room is such a bonus,” she said.

Her class also will use them in their writing, research and interactions with each other through online tools, such as Google Classroom.

Elementary classrooms use Google Classroom, a free web-based platform that integrates a classroom account with Google Suite services, such as Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar. 

“Google Classroom saves time and paper, and makes it easy to create classes, distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organized,” said Missy Hamilton, Murray School District’s elementary teaching and learning director. “Teachers can quickly see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback and grades right in Classroom.”

At the secondary level, Canvas is provided so teachers can assign, assess and monitor student learning through tracking of student activities, such as discussion and collaboration. 

“As digital natives, our students need to come prepared digitally ready and literate and that’s just not literacy anymore. We need to harness that knowledge they have for more student growth and income. Our teachers are more willing than ever to teach with technology so we need to provide them with the software, the hardware and whatever is needed with technology to impact student learning,” she said.

After assessing the District needs, Hamilton said that has included upgraded wiring so now all classrooms through the District can access wireless technology as well as the training needed and actual Chromebooks in the classroom. 

Biel said that has been significant.

“Teachers need devices available, assistance when things go wrong and training in how to use the devices to enhance education. Murray District has provided all three of those parts to those of us who have received this grant. For that, I’m very thankful,” she said.

The district was able to provide this through a three-year grant received this spring from the State Office of Education for more than $500,000, Hamilton said. 

With the funding, each teacher who received the grant not only received 30 Chromebooks to make their classroom a 1-to-1 ratio of students to devices, they also participated in an initial 16-hour training on using the technology. Follow-up trainings are scheduled throughout the year.

“Teachers were selected on the basis of how committed they were to wanting to learn and implement the technology, how welcoming they were to mentor or allow visitors to observe the use in their classrooms and how they envisioned the impact of Chromebooks in their language arts teaching. Our goals tie into the district’s improvement plan to help create model classrooms. We want our teachers to become proficient with the technology and in some cases, we are co-teaching to model the technology for implementation,” she said.

Hamilton said that through this grant, students will move closer to the district’s vision in technology and digital learning through having immediate information that will allow experiential, creative and collaborative learning that will allow them to search, organize, analyze and evaluate information they locate in the digital world.

“This helps brings technology to our classrooms that will facilitate student-initiated learning opportunities so they have the technology skills to be college and career ready,” she said. “Our teachers understand the importance of using technology and it’s important that they have the ability to share that knowledge and collaborate through the use of technology.”

The district improvement plan includes several tiers, which among them includes teachers to provide a minimum of 65 percent of their curriculum digitally through the use of the tools on a daily basis. Students will have access to a their own 1-to-1 computing device where they will receive the curriculum through personalized digital tools, customized learning platforms and individualized software programs, Hamilton said.

In addition, teachers will provide lessons on managing online information and keeping it secure, protecting and respecting privacy, understanding responsibilities and rights in online spaces and recognizing appropriate communication online and know when to report issues such as cyberbullying to appropriate adults.

“Our goals are for our students to learn creativity and innovation and be able to collaborate and communicate using technology. We want our students to become digital citizens and be able to effectively use technology in the 21st century,” Hamilton said. 

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