News Column

SISD considers more computers in classroom

May 22, 2014

By Joshua Brumett, Herald Democrat, Sherman, Texas

May 22--It may seem strange that modern middle schoolers don't know how to use technology. After all, this is the digital age -- kids start playing with computers before they can walk. But according to a state test administered last year, 40 percent of Sherman ISD eighth graders do not have the computer skills they need to succeed.

"We make a lot of assumptions that our students know and have digital skills, but research has shown students are using technology, but they are using it for gaming, they are using it for socializing," said Mignon Plyler, SISD director of technology. "In their free time, they know how to text with their eyes closed and their phones in their pockets, but actually having them sit down at a keyboard and being able to type a 25-page research paper, what we found is we have to teach them those skills."

Those skills, according to the Texas Education Association, include research techniques, fluency with word processors and spreadsheets, accurate and fluent typing, and courteous, professional online communications.

At Monday's SISD School Board meeting, Plyler briefed the Board on a proposed solution: a $200,000 digital literacy pilot program that would purchase 275 iPads for Sherman fourth graders and 28 for their teachers.

These devices, complete with cases and keyboards, would combine with some of the existing 350 school-owned iPads scattered throughout the District to create a two-to-one student to device ratio.

"Right now, there is limited time for students to access the (computer) lab, there's only four devices in the classroom, so it's really hard to use technology for teaching and learning unless you provide more access to devices for students," said Plyler.

"It would be like having a classroom and only having four pencils to go around for all of your students."

As proposed, fourth grade teachers would begin training over the summer. "Some (teachers) will already be comfortable with the technology, and others, it will be the first time they hold an iPad," said Ann Higginbotham, an instructional technologist at SISD. "So we'll start from the bottom up and make sure they are comfortable with the device."

Once teachers have a basic familiarity with what the tablet computer can do, they will receive training in ways to incorporate the technology into their teaching of other subjects. This means that, in addition to learning the technology skills TEA requires, students can learn the core subjects they will see on the STAAR test.

"There are so many apps that address core content areas, and allow teachers to customize the way a student learns," said Plyler. "Its a powerful tool."

"When you put an iPad in their hand, it's like giving them magic," said Higginbotham. "They are just engaged and excited. Normally, It's kind of like dragging them along to get them to write. They'll do it, but they're not that interested. But when you pull out the iPads we have, they write like they've never written before. They are inspired to work."

"This (program) puts technology at their fingertips all day long, wherever they're at," Higginbotham continued. "And because it's a tablet, it's mobile. Even if they wanted to go outside or take it on a field trip where they were going to do a project, they can take it with them."

"We have to teach our students how to live in the 21st century, and be creators, not just producers," said Plyler. If the pilot program is successful, Plyler said she hopes the District can add similar amounts of technology for fifth through eighth grade in upcoming years.

The $200,000 needed to start this program, however, must come from the District budget. This project will join many other items to be considered when the SISD Board votes on the budget during their June meeting.


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Source: Herald Democrat (Sherman, TX)

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