Gazette opinion: School technology integral to student success

2013-04-14T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: School technology integral to student success The Billings Gazette
April 14, 2013 12:10 am

The Billings Career Center library has several bookshelves. But most of its space is occupied by rows of computers with flat-screen monitors -- and students at the keyboards. On one morning last week, one side of the library was filled with English students writing literary analyses of “Catcher in the Rye” on computers.

On the other side, home construction and geometry students sat at a bank of computers to take a national standardized test to earn three college credits. The testing was made possible through a partnership between the Career Center and City College.

“We are paperless out here,” said Scott Anderson, Career Center principal. “We have a smart board in every classroom. We do everything digitally.”

To understand how the proposed May 7 technology levy would work for Billings K-8 students, let’s take a look at how the high school technology levy that voters approved three years ago is working.

All Billings public high school students now have Google accounts they can use for homework. Staff at each school helps decide how to use limited tech levy money.

For the past three years, the levy has provided $1.1 million annually. Previously, the only money for technology in the high school budget was federal Perkins funding for technical education. Other departments had no tech resources. The district continues to receive about $300,000 in Perkins funds annually, which mostly goes to the Career Center. The $1.1 million from the voted tech levy is allocated to the four schools on a per student basis. If approved, the elementary levy also would be allocated to each K-8 school according to enrollment.

Teacher training is a key component of the Billings high school technology program and part of the proposed K-8 tech levy. This year, Skyview hired a tech firm for training, West has three teachers who work part of the school day as technology integration specialists – training and assisting their colleagues. Senior has Shaundel Krumheuer, a teacher who is now the school’s full-time tech integration specialist.

Student discoveries

“With adequate access to the appropriate technology, the teacher can take on the role of facilitator and help guide the students through discoveries – instead of doling out information,” Krumheuer said. “They learn at their own pace, and explore topics and ideas of interest, making students much more active learners. Collaboration also is heightened when students use technology. With collaborative tools such as Prezi and Google Drive, groups of students can work on the same project at the same time.”

Ronda McManus, the Career Center’s technology integration specialist, helped automotive teacher Josh George “flip” his classroom. Starting this year, George’s students listen and watch his lessons on their smartphones, home or school computers – before they do the hands-on lesson in class. McManus helped George research the best camera and software. He’s put in a lot of extra time this year, but his step-by-step instructions on how to repair engine parts can be used again next year. Moreover, his students can listen to the lessons as often as they need to. With QR codes posted in the classroom, students (most of whom have smartphones) can instantly review George’s lesson as they are working on a vehicle.

Ballots arrive Saturday

Billings voters will see the elementary levy ballots in their mailboxes Saturday. Our students in kindergarten through grade 8 need the resources from both levies -- the general-fund levy for hiring more K-6 teachers, and the technology levy. Technology in K-8 will be used to help students learn reading, math, science, writing and keyboarding.

All other AA school district in Montana already have technology levies for their high schools and elementary schools. Many small school districts in Montana have a computer or iPad for every student.

The technology levy won’t buy a device for each Billings child, but over a few years, it would allow the schools to have a computer lab for every grade level or department – instead of one or two donated labs shared by the entire school.

As Senior’s Krumheuer said, technology “won’t replace great teachers, but it sure allows them to be even greater!”

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