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Murray Journal

Murray District creates blended learning with devices for all students

Nov 06, 2018 04:24PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Murray High students Joseph Longhurst and his brother, James, use their laptops checked out from the high school for studying at their home. (Photo courtesy Nathan Longhurst)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

Over the summer, the Longhursts received their school registration information, as usual, but they also learned that Murray High School was offering students checkout and use of Chromebooks for their schoolwork during the school year.

After purchasing the school’s insurance on laptops if they are damaged, lost or stolen, the Longhurst brothers, Joseph and James, are using the devices in school as well as at home.

“The Chromebook has helped with homework a ton,” Joseph said, adding that it also has saved multiple people needing to use the family computer at the same time. “It’s super nice to be able to work on an essay or online homework pretty much wherever I am.”

On the Chromebook, in addition to homework assignments, he is able to use Canvas, Aspire, Gmail and other programs.

Joseph said that while computers are available in the library and in computer labs, students are expected to bring their Chromebooks to class.

“It is really helpful in class seeing as most of the teachers use sites such as Canvas and Google docs. Unfortunately, if a student forgets his or her Chromebook, they are kind of screwed. There are no extras since they used the school’s entire supply of classroom sets to get everyone their own,” he said.

Murray High Principal Scott Wihongi said that the idea to pilot the 1:1 initiative at the high school came from Murray School District Technology Director Jason Eyre, who contributed additional funding to supplement those that the school already had purchased through the School Community Council Land Trust budget.

Wihongi said there are multiple reasons for having 1:1 devices.

“(It) creates more equitable access to technology outside of school for all students,” he said. “All students now have the opportunity to work at school and at home with a computer. With this 1:1 approach, we can also start offering online curriculum to some students as an alternative to traditional, brick-and-mortar classrooms, which sometimes don't fit everyone's learning styles.”

He also has seen students more involved and collaborating while learning.

“Teachers can move more toward a blended-learning environment, combining technology learning platforms like Canvas and Google Class for students to utilize at school and at home. It also allows teacher to create a more interactive and engaging curriculum with the use of learning apps, online work spaces, and the potential for much more immediate feedback using assessment platforms found on Canvas, Google Class and other software the district has invested in,” Wihongi said.

The blended learning environment and 1:1 devices aren’t just limited to the high school. While the other district schools don’t have a Chromebook checked out to each student individually, there is a 1:1 ratio at their school for third-graders and older, said Missy Hamilton, district director of elementary teaching and learning. Additional devices are planned to be purchased for the lower grades next year, she added.

“We’re allowing each building to decide how best to use the technology and what works with their software licenses,” Hamilton said. “Each student will have access to technology regularly as more of our world goes digital.”

She said that with digital learning, many students, like the Longhursts, are able to complete their homework online using Google Classrooms and Canvas. Textbooks are checked out digitally, so it reduces costs to the District or student, and updates are available in real time.

“Schools are watching to see how well the pilot at Murray High is going before they may opt to check out Chromebooks to students,” Hamilton said.

Teachers, who received training on how to incorporate Chromebooks in the classroom this summer, are using the technology as they teach.

A Horizon sixth-grade class has used the technology with their science core, she said. They used their devices to monitor and predict different weather patterns and phenomena and created graphs to show the climate and weather data on Google Docs. They also use the video program, Flip Grid, as an assessment for using data in predicting the weather.

“There are amazing applications to where blended learning is going and the possibilities are endless,” Hamilton said.

She said that same sixth-grade class went on to create a video as if they were weather reporters on a news station, using the data to make predictions for the upcoming days. 

Another program the sixth-graders used was the Phet simulations. They allow students to use computer simulations of gravity, orbits and changes in matter. Students were able to use those computer models to see the effects of gravity and inertia on planetary orbits and also to form conclusions on how matter changes from one state to another, Hamilton said.

Also at Horizon, technology is being used with the dual immersion Spanish program in different ways to communicate to their “pen pals” in Mexico. 

Other classrooms at the junior high school level are offering flipped classrooms, where lessons are videotaped and posted so students, as well as their parents, can watch the lecture at home, and in the classroom, they’re more engaged in discussion and collaborative activities, she said.

“At one school, there was a collaborative seventh-grade recycling project between first, fourth and seventh period classes. They were able to share documents and research between them and communicate with each other to create a presentation,” Hamilton said. “We’re using technology in the classroom at all our schools and are providing the help and training for even the teacher who struggles with email to be able to learn and say, ‘I can do this,’ as they understand the need for student learning.”

While the need to replace and upgrade the Chromebooks will come about every three years, Hamilton said that the District has budgeted for the need.

“It’s one of the best ways to get students engaged, offer personalized learning and have them be able to collaborate with each other,” she said. “Teachers are able to communicate immediately and directly with students and, as a result, our students are becoming more critical thinkers and taking their learning to new levels.”