Schools plugging in to new tech

By Carey Restino

Homer Tribune

Changing policies on cellphone use by students as well as an effort to get iPods into the hands of elementary school students were among the topics considered by the Kenai Peninsula School District Board of Education at its once-a-year Homer meeting.

At its next meeting, the school board will take up a change in school district policy formally permitting cellphone use by students in schools with the caveat that students not use them during class or any other time when their use could be disruptive.

Homer High School Principal Doug Waclawski said that the changing policy will mirror what has already been happening — students are allowed to use their phones between classes and at lunchtime. He also said teachers are allowing the use of phones as learning tools in the classroom more and more.

“They are using them like little computers,” Waclawski said.

Students use smartphones to research information, as well as access educational applications. Some teachers are starting to offer quizzes and surveys online that can be accessed by students using their phones, as well, he said.

In its proposed cellphone policy, the school district acknowledged the importance of cellphones as a tool for students to stay connected with their parents, as well as access electronic information. It noted, however, that teachers would have discretion as to the use of cellphones in their classrooms, and that the privilege will be forfeited for any student who fails to abide by the policies of the school.

For instance, students will not be allowed to use a smartphone to view an Internet site that is blocked by the school, send text messages or other communication that is harassing or discriminating, or take harassing photos.

Students also are prohibited from the use of cameras in restrooms, dressing rooms and locker rooms, and taking photos of any person without permission, the proposed policy states.

Phones may not be used to record or capture the contents of tests, assessments, homework or classwork without the permission of the instructor, and any hacking or intentional modification of data that belongs to others also is prohibited.

The district will refine its policy on special education program cellphone use when it considers the cellphone policy update at its next meeting.

iPods touch on new tools of learning

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, led a work session Monday afternoon explaining his efforts to get iPod Touches into Kenai Peninsula schools. Seaton secured $52,500 in the state’s fiscal year 2013 budget to purchase the handheld devices, which offer the benefits of a smartphone, like an iPhone, but without the phone component. Students can surf the Internet from any location with Wi-Fi, and teachers are learning how to integrate the devices into classroom programs.

Four southern peninsula schools — Chapman, McNeil Canyon, Paul Banks and West Homer — were given 172 iPods for use in various grade levels, and teachers were trained in their use. While more research into the academic impact of such devices is needed, the school district reported that initial responses were positive.

Teachers reported using the iPods for a wide variety of purposes, from vocabulary development to research and video tutorial viewing. A wide range of applications were loaded on the iPods, including iBooks and games that teach math, reading and grammar.

Teachers were also able to use the devices for formal and informal assessments.

Schools were able to send the iPods home with students for skills practice, curriculum video content and research.

Students were surveyed at the end of the year and reported that most felt the iPods made them a better reader and math student, and bring more excitement to the classroom. In grades one and two, 93 percent of students said they were glad that the iPods were used in class. In grades three through eight, 76 percent said they appreciated use of the devices in the classroom.

One use for the iPods was using the voice recorder tool called Voice Memo so students could read aloud and then play it back to hear themselves. One teacher noted in survey reflections that she saw students thinking more critically about their fluency after recording and listening to themselves on a weekly basis.

Senior board member honored

Outgoing board member Sammy Crawford has served the Kenai Peninsula and beyond for so long as an educator and board member that she is known throughout the state only by her first name, several board members noted as they bid adieu, some tearfully, to this longtime education advocate.

Crawford came to the district in 1968, working at then-named Kenai Junior High. She retired from teaching in 1996 and was elected to the board in 1998.

Crawford said that she recalled thinking initially that serving on the board would be the easiest thing she’d ever done because of her many years of experience as an educator. She quickly learned how much there was to learn and do in the name of education.

“It has been a wonderful journey,” she said.

Sunny Hilts, longtime board member, wished Crawford an emotional goodbye, saying she was her mentor and friend.
“I can’t imagine the board without her,” Hilts said.

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Filed under education, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, technology

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