Students bring tech pilots to life

With iPads and laptops in hand, dozens of Idaho secondary students helped lawmakers understand how schools are integrating technology in their classrooms.

McCall Donnelly Feb. 18 House Ed
McCall-Donnelly High School students demonstrate how iPads are transforming education on Tuesday at the Statehouse.

On Tuesday, students from McCall-Donnelly High School, Kuna Middle School and Middleton High School demonstrated how their schools are pilot testing different computing devices.

The 2013 Legislature provided $3 million for schools to participate in building-wide technology pilot programs. Last summer, the State Department of Education picked 11 schools (including the three represented Tuesday at the Statehouse) to split the money and begin the pilot programs.

Tuesday’s committee hearing was unlike any other education committee so far this year. Students were urged to take over the meeting – and they did in a big way:

  • McCall-Donnelly students passed out iPads for all committee members to use during the hearing. Then they offered an interactive presentation and asked lawmakers to connect to education applications the students used in the classroom. Lawmakers were asked to respond to multiple-choice questions and even use the device’s touch screen to draw doodles for students.
  • Kuna Principal Deb McGrath testified virtually via an online Google Hangout to stress how inexpensive Chromebooks have transformed education and offered more online opportunities to students whose families didn’t already own computing devices.
  • Middleton freshman Joah Hardy testified how laptops and cloud-based software allow more students to be engaged and prepare for living adult lives in the 21st century.

“The collaboration we can do with our teachers – all in real time – has opened up lots of possibilities,” Hardy said.

The McCall students’ presentation was the most interactive, which was hardly surprising because senior Brooke Thomas and other students helped write the school’s pilot grant application.

Thomas, whose father is the school’s principal, said the iPads have ushered in “a new generation of learning” that allows students to collaborate in real time while staying more engaged in discussions.

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She said students have taken ownership of the project – to the point that they are teaching the teachers how to use and update the devices. Thomas also lamented the voter repeal of Proposition 3, which would have put a laptop in the hands of every high school student and teacher.

“I felt, as a student, that adults were disconnected with how students wanted to learn,” Thomas said.

Students also identified a handful of concerns and barriers moving forward. McCall students testified that about 10 percent of the students’ devices have been broken this year – which was in line with expectations. Students and administrators from all three schools said that expanded broadband infrastructure will be necessary to support large-scale rollouts of wireless devices. They also praised the Idaho Education Network, which has been plagued by funding uncertainties that have come before the Legislature.

Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said the presentations helped lawmakers visualize how students are able to use technology to accomplish their schoolwork.

“We don’t often get this opportunity,” DeMordaunt said. “We see the money go away, but we don’t often get to see the result of that.”

Tuesday afternoon, students offered interactive demonstrations to the Senate Education Committee.

Here are links to Kevin Richert’s in-depth stories on the state’s 11 technology pilot schools: