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St. Vrain Valley School District demonstrating one-to-one initiative with site visits
By Amy Bounds, Staff Writer, Times-Call
Niwot High students in honors biology rotated through stations, building a biomacromolecule at one, solving a puzzle on their iPads at another and completing lab work at a third.
Their teacher, Caroline Moore, spent most of her time working with students at the lab station.
She checked the rest of their work online, with the student teams building the molecule taking a picture of their completed model, then labeling the parts using the notability app.
The biology class was one of several visited on a school tour for Thursday's St. Vrain Valley Learning Technology Symposium. Niwot High hosted about 45 industry partners and educators from other school districts, giving them an opportunity to see the district's one-to-one iPad program in action.
Participant Kevin Aten, director of innovation in the Estes Park School District, brought two others from his 1,150-student district.
"We're looking to collaborate and get ideas and change schools," he said. "We want to make sure our students can compete on a global scale. We have a chance to bring the world to the kids through technology."
The technology plan, funded through a 2012 mill levy override, allocated $2.2 million a year for sixth- through 12th-grade students to have their own iPads.
This fall, each elementary classroom also received a set of six iPads for students to share. Other elements of the plan include updates to computer labs, distributing Chromebook "carts" to schools that will serve as mobile computer labs and updates to classroom desktops.
Once the technology rollout is complete, the district next school year plans to start refreshing the devices. Phasing in the distribution also gave time for teachers to attend training sessions, district officials said.
Along with training for teachers, officials said, another key to the program's success has been hiring technology coaches to work in schools with teachers, helping them develop lessons and strategies.
A student "geek squad" helps troubleshoot technical issues with the devices.
Thursday's class tour also included a statistics class where students analyzed data sets using an online graphing calculator and a painting class where students worked on a pop-art project. For the pop-art project, students could go online to find all the materials, plus a video of an exemplar project.
After the tour, participants heard more about the technology plan from district officials, attended breakout sessions on topics such as "curriculum in the digital age" and listened to teachers and students share their experiences.
"Most of our work is on iPads," said Niwot sophomore Nayeli Amaya.
Senior Max Towlen said he likes that, instead of hauling around textbooks, now he mainly just needs his iPad.
"It's nice to have everything in one place, and you have access around the clock," he said.
Freshman Evan Assenmacher said he likes the functionality of the iPad, especially that it takes pictures. While he could use his phone as a camera, he added, social media on his phone can be distracting.
"I've been trying hard to keep my iPad academic," he said.
Both Towlen and junior Anna Warden said they also like the learning management system, Schoology, where teachers post assignments and other important class information.
"It tells you what assignments are due, when they're due, when they're overdue," Warden said. "I use it all the time."
At Niwot, all 1,200 students received iPads last school year. Many came from middle schools where they also had iPads.
"There's no halfway," said Niwot High Assistant Principal Andrea Smith. "This is where we're going. It sets up this really equitable playing field for all students."
She said students generally prefer iPads to laptops because they're easier to use for collaboration and allow students to take photos and videos. Compatible keyboards are available for longer writing assignments.
Mark Mills, a St. Vrain Valley assistant superintendent, said middle schoolers entering high school now expect teachers to incorporate technology in classes — and their needs are helping push the district faster.
"To keep up with what these kids expect, we might have to change things much more often," he said.
Biology teacher Caroline Moore talks with Niwot High School freshman Taylor James, right, as Gretchen Berry, left, of Aurora Public Schools, looks on Thursday during a class in Niwot. (Matthew Jonas / Times-Call Staff Photographer)