Friday, October 26, 2007
Technology needs grow at the Carlisle School
The Carlisle School runs on technology. Students of all ages use classroom and library computers for research, writing, editing, graphing, practicing math skills, and creating multimedia presentations. The school has three electronic whiteboards (ActivBoards) which give teachers a host of options including saving and printing classroom lessons. The school has many other tools such as printers, digital cameras, and projectors.
Behind the scenes, servers and software enable the school to function efficiently. The school's main office is connected to the community via e-mail, and in emergencies can automatically call school parents. Without technology the school would not be able to keep up with the state's reporting requirements, much of which is done through e-mail and on the internet.
Improving access to technology is part of the educational system standards in Massachusetts. The school's Technology Committee, made up of administrators, teachers, and community members, has drafted an "Educational Technology Plan 2006 — 2009." The document has been submitted to the state Department of Education (DOE), putting the school in line to receive state technology discounts. The mission statement of the plan is to "improve teaching and learning by embedding technology in all aspects of our program."
The state recommends that schools have a ratio of no more than five students per computer and an optimal ratio of one computer to one student. Besides classroom and library computers, the school has three and a half portable computer labs. Each complete portable lab includes a cart with 25 to 30 laptops and a printer. The school's current ratio is 4.3 students per "modern" computer, and 95% of the classrooms are on the Internet, which is lagging behind the state average of 3.8 students per modern computer, with 98% classrooms on the internet. For comparison: Concord - 3.0; Sudbury - 3.7; Wayland - 2.7; Weston - 2.9; and Wellesley - 3.7, all with 100% of classrooms on the Internet. The Carlisle School ranks 226th out of 329 school districts while Concord ranks 33rd.
In August DOE issued a draft of new K-12 Instructional Technology Standards (www.doe.mass.edu/edtech/standards/itstand_draft.pdf). According to the DOE, the draft, "provides a set of guidelines for schools describing what students should know and be able to do in order to use technology for learning in school and for lifelong learning." (See table.)
How does the school know if they are meeting the Department of Education's standards? Carlisle School Technology Specialist Cyd McCann explained that technology skills are offered at each grade level. "I believe in incorporating skills instead of teaching them separately," she said. She creates a grid of the technology benchmarks for each grade and, with the grade level teachers, reviews which skills are being met through the curriculum. "If we see a hole we add another project," she said. As an example, she said students who are writing poetry may type their poems on a computer and learn how to use fonts, indent text or insert pictures. Assessment is "loose right now," added McCann. "But the bottom line is, when they go to high school and college, they are expected to know these things." The more exposure they have to technology, she said, the more comfortable they will be. "We've come a long way in the last four years," she said.
McCann said she is very excited by the different ways teachers incorporate technology in their classrooms. FastMath, new software that assists students in learning math facts, is being used in grades 1, 2 and 3. Students taking French, Spanish or Chinese can use the Rosetta Stone software to practice speaking, listening, reading and writing the language. She also noted students are using the computers for research and creating PowerPoint presentations.
This year three middle school classrooms have interactive whiteboards (ActivBoards), which allow the teachers to record, store and print class notes. "One of the features of the ActivBoard that I really like is that I keep a record of every class lesson," explained seventh-grade teacher David Zuckerman. "Therefore if a student is absent I can e-mail them a copy of the missed lesson." Zuckerman said he is able to "spontaneously diagram an abstract concept in a way that would have been almost impossible in previous years." This helps students, especially those who are visual learners, understand the information.
"I use my ActivBoard every day," he said. "Lessons that previously would have required an overhead projector, computer projector, chalkboard, whiteboard and television, are now seamlessly integrated and presented using the ActivBoard. It has made me a much more efficient teacher."
All equipment eventually wears out or becomes outdated, and the technology plan has to take into account replacement cycles for a host of technology including computers, servers, wiring, cameras, software and printers. This year, the school requested $66,000 to maintain a five-year replacement cycle. The school received an allocation of $36,000 in both FY08 and FY07.
More than half of the desktop and laptop computers are over four years old, Technology Committee member Ginny Lamere pointed out. McCann explained that at least 50 laptops will need to be replaced within the next few years. As the laptops on the portable labs are replaced, the old units are used as replacements for teachers' computers.
Technology infrastructure has its own replacement cycle, and $20,000 was received for this in FY08. The school plans to request the same amount in FY09.
The committee, McCann and school officials are in the process of reviewing the school's short- and long-term technology needs. The following short-term goals have been suggested in addition to replacement needs: one and a half additional portable computer labs (30 computers) at an estimated cost of $43,600, and four interactive whiteboards costing $22,000.
Long-term suggestions include adding up to four more portable computer labs to provide one per grade and eventually adding up to twelve more interactive whiteboards. Four labs including roughly 100 laptops are estimated to cost about $128,000. A network upgrade will probably be needed to handle that number of additional computers. A ballpark figure for a new network was given at $100,000, with an estimated annual operation and maintenance cost of $15,000 to $20,000.
The school's technology plan states, "The nature of an annual budget makes it difficult to guarantee that there will be sufficient funding to acquire and maintain the hardware, software, professional development and other services that will be needed to implement this Technology Plan over the next several years." Though the school has budgeting for technology, a large share has been funded through efforts by the Carlisle Education Foundation (CEF) and the Carlisle School Association (CSA). From 1991 to 2007 over $400,000 has been granted to the school for technology, raised by various events including four previous auctions. The CEF will be hosting "2007 - For Your School Only," a dinner dance/auction on November 2 at the Barn at Gibbet Hill in Groton. The funds raised from the event are targeted specifically for technology.
To raise the level of technology infrastructure to the state's recommendation, the school will be looking to federal, state and local grant opportunities.
© 2007 The