Gary Lambert: Wi-fi at home and on the bus
Beekmantown (NY) Central School District, a rural district of 2,070 students, was on a mission to be the most progressive educational institution in the area. When funds were earmarked for school wi-fi, we wanted to harness the Internet to provide a world-class education for every student in this district.
Our initiative to address digital equity issues began with the rollout of Kajeet SmartSpots for students who needed home Internet access. In the four years since we had started our 1:1 program, the number of students without Internet has dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent because parents saw the benefit for their kids and made it a priority to get connected. For that 10 percent who still don’t have Internet, we had an easy-to-use solution.
Because robust filtering and reporting features come standard with Kajeet, we’re now able to ensure that students are using wi-fi for its intended educational purpose. While we have a responsibility to be CIPA-compliant, we also are able to set notifications for when students violate our acceptable use policy by going to sites they shouldn’t. We can then determine when it’s necessary to intervene.
To address both digital access and the district’s commitment to keeping students connected to school, we started looking at wi-fi on buses. Some students spend up to an hour on the bus getting to and from school each day, and school-sponsored athletic events often require a commute of an hour-and-a half-each way. Putting wi-fi on buses was a tangible way to solve a problem and provide opportunities for students.
With wi-fi on the buses, drivers immediately reported that students were engaged and working on assignments during their commutes instead of getting into trouble. In fact, when it comes to discipline issues, the bus often represents one of the most challenging environments for many schools, but we have decreased those behavior incidents by 70 percent.
The success is in the numbers. In the past three years, our attendance rates have increased, along with our assessment scores in grades 3 through 8. School is a not a place that students have to go; it’s where they want to go. We believe the digital learning initiative has been a foundation for their success.
Kendra LeRoy: Connecting to today’s smartphone-toting parents
I work in a group of four teachers who collaborate to teach the different subjects in 5th grade. To keep us all connected, we use the parent-teacher app Bloomz to post announcements and updates to students’ parents individually or as a group.
Parents really appreciate the up-to-date posts about what is happening at school on the Bloomz newsfeed, which they can access right on their smartphones. They also like having the calendar to remind them about dress-up days, report cards, and meetings.
We’ve used the conference scheduling aspect for three years in our grade level to set up time slots for conferences. Parents get instant notifications that conference times are available, as well as the option to cancel or reschedule if something arises. This simplifies our life as teachers because it saves written notes and phone calls. The best part about a parent-teacher communication tool is the fact that we know when a parent has viewed our messages, so we can be aware that he or she has seen the subject at hand.
Michelle Zavaleta: Uniting the classroom with an audio system
So many pieces are needed to complete the puzzle of a mobile learning environment. Every school has its own unique challenges, and technology plays the important role of helping address those by supporting educators to continue providing superior lessons.
At Tulare (CA) City School District in 2011, we had a cluster of deaf and hard-of-hearing students for the first time in one class. Faced with the challenge of providing the necessary assistance to students who couldn’t hear their teachers, we implemented Lightspeed’s Redcat classroom audio system. After completing training courses, educators quickly noticed the advantages of using audio in their spaces.
We saw the benefits in our classrooms with our hard-of-hearing students, but through the years, we’ve also seen the benefits for students who are not hard-of-hearing. In today’s mobile classrooms, where students are moving around the room rather than sitting at desks, children are able to hear anywhere in the classroom and have displayed an increase in attention span. Having students working on their devices in different areas of the room can create distracting background noise, but an audio system allows teachers to be heard—without raising their voice.