Plugged in at Seward Middle School

Posted: Monday, December 13, 2010

Seward Middle School has a new leader with Principal Jason Bickling, and a fresh new approach to every aspect of their learning community.

Through the integration of technology, the instructors have successfully engaged students in new and interesting ways, found money and time saving measures, and advanced the curriculum to new levels.

"I give the credit back to the teachers," Bickling says. "They are a great team of professionals. I am lucky to be their administrator.

"I would also like to add that Amanda Adams (technology support person) has played an integral role in helping our staff collaborate and integrate technology into our classrooms. We wouldn't be where we are without her support and assistance."

Shelly Walker, language arts instructor, useds podcasts and digital storytelling, SMART Response, Moodle and ePortfolios to create innovative learning opportunities for her language arts students. Moodle, an open source e-learning platform, is used every day for class discussions. Students can take advantage of entirely new ways to approach classroom projects.

Traditional written assignments have been augmented with the use of digital storytelling and podcasting to bring together pictures, narration and music. Walker makes this assignment even more interesting by adding additional criteria. Students must send their digital story to two peers and two adults for review. Walker cites the participation factor as a way to gauge that students are embracing the new technology.

"Sometimes we have to really push students in written assignments, but this year I didn't have any problem," Walker said. "Students participated 100 percent."

Naomi Wade uses technology in a number of different ways in both her science and math classes. She starts class with warm-up exercises to review the previous lesson and lay the groundwork for the new lesson. She also utilizes SMART Response for short quizzes, and the students love it.

"I actually have students eagerly raising their hands and asking for a quiz," Wade said. "Now how many teachers get to say that? Not many!"

Wade also makes the most of the SMART Notebook software. Rather than a 20-question test, students draw a question from a hat and are asked to create a digital example to illustrate how to solve the problem. She also makes her lessons available online, and records her classroom instruction so that students can review the material presented to assist them in their homework completion.

Myla Liljemark has also found fun new ways to use technology in her Social Studies class. The group uses Google Earth and KPBSD's newest technology tool, Discovery Education. Liljemark accesses over 9,000 titles of streaming video and over 20,000 video clips from BBC and PBS among others. Discovery Education combines scientifically proven, standards-based digital media, and a dynamic user community in order to empower teachers to improve student achievement.

The school has also found a multitude of ways to save both time and money through the use of technology. As a professional learning team, the instructors utilize the school's wiki page to share calendars for events, collaborate on student intervention, reserve rooms for class (such as the library or computer lab), and create school-wide supply and order lists. The group also participates in an on-going Moodle discussion.

"It's difficult for all of us to get together for a meeting, and so this is a way that we can dialogue much easier," Bickling said.

The calendar function also works great for students. Instructors list their test times on the shared calendar so that students aren't faced with days where multiple tests are administered in different classes.

The school is also saving money and going green.

In the past parents completed a paper survey following parent-teacher conferences. The comments and information were then tabulated by hand and recorded in an Excel spreadsheet. The process was quite burdensome and labor intensive.

This year parents completed the survey online, using a bank of four computers set up at the school. All of the answers were automatically tabulated within minutes. The school plans to go green with all of its future surveys and brochures.

"I think what has been most exciting for me is to see our staff truly eager to learn new things, share with one another, collaborate on projects, and work to make our classrooms a more fertile environment for student engagement and success," Bickling said. "From my observation, that positive learning energy is contagious and our students are getting it."

This article was provided by Kelly Reisig, spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

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