The switchover to the new technological paradigm has not been easy — or cheap. According to Fenter, a team of administrators and teachers, along with support personnel, has been working on the initiative for five years. The team looked at the possible uses for the technology and the programs that might help students learn.
“We needed a device that provided a platform where students could interact with other students and with teachers,” Fenter said in a meeting at his Merle Street office last week, “and we needed the specific software programs that would facilitate those interactions.”
The technology team chose the Apple iPad as its platform, buying more than 1,000 of the devices at about $500 apiece, using money set aside for technology. The financing agreement will allow the district to introduce the technology at only a modest cost to taxpayers, Fenter said.
After some experimenting with programs, the district purchased a program called Edmodo. Each student is given a log-in identification, and the program has a “Facebook-like” appearance, Fenter said, a page that is familiar to most of the students. What the students see when they log in is controlled by the school.
The program was piloted in a few seventh grade classes last year, and judged a success, and the iPads are now being used in grades seven and eight. “Some of the veteran teachers had qualms about the technology and the way it would be used in the classroom,” Fenter said. “Parents had their questions as well, both about the cost and what it would mean for learning.”
After lots of staff development and training seminars for parents, however, Fenter said, most of the issues have been resolved. “Veteran teachers have been energized and feel like new teachers, and I mean that in the best sense of the word,” he said. “The teachers have worked so hard to make this a success, learning to work with the technology and the new formats. They realize that the technology gives them a greater ability to monitor student work and see where the weaknesses are.
“Teachers who told us last summer that they couldn’t do it are now doing it — and enjoying it,” he added.