Saturday, August 29, 2015

Exciting New Technology Developments at Searsport Elementary School!

Can you believe it, we're already beginning a new school year?  Where has the summer gone?  It's time to get ramped up for the new year.  There have certainly been a lot of changes for me over the summer, the largest of which is that I go from working in four different schools to just one.  I will miss my friends at the East Belfast, Nickerson, and Weymouth schools, but I'm also excited about the possibilities that working in one school brings that weren't possible before.  Over the summer, I was also able to move into a full-size classroom and now have a base of operations for all of the new things that I want to work on, in addition to working on other projects like my FIRST LEGO League teams.

Home sweet classroom.  Still needs some chairs and I need to liven up the walls and bulletin boards up, but hey, it's a start!

Enough about me though; there are lots of other exciting changes at Searsport Elementary School when it comes to technology.  Here are just a few.

More LCD Projectors

A sample LCD projector cart, with projector, Apple TV, Chromecast, 
iPad, iPad stand and holder, and speakers.

Going back to when I started working at Searsport Elementary School, we've had about 3 mobile LCD projector carts in the building.  With 12-15 classrooms of teachers and students in the school, it was difficult to meet the demand for the projectors.  Getting more projectors in the building has been a goal of mine for some time.

It has also been a goal of mine to increase student access to the LCD projectors.  Having them in the front of the room sometimes makes it more difficult for the students to use it, but having students get up and move with their laptops to connect to the projectors can also be a time-consuming process and a classroom management issue.  That's why, in 2014, I worked with the parent group at SES on a pilot project to equip the carts with Apple TVs, which would allow for students and teachers to connect to the projector wirelessly.  This opened up new avenues for teachers to use the projector carts, as well as provided greater access to the students, who used it to share their work with their classmates or to share interesting things they were finding about a research topic on the Internet.  With an eye on building off our successes with the Apple TV project and better meeting demand for the carts, we were able to double the number of projector carts in the building, making one available for each grade level team!  And this year, they will be packed with even more features, like a Chromecast (Google's alternative to the Apple TV, which provides wireless connectivity for the Chromebooks), an iPad, a stand/holder for the iPad, and actual working speakers!  I have already provided two PD sessions on these carts within the last couple of weeks, and will be offering more going forward as we create more student-centered learning experiences, one piece of equipment at a time.

Student iPads

It has been fascinating to see the transition in students' skill sets with technology when entering kindergarten.  When I started in the district, three years ago, the students adjusted surprisingly well to the laptops, and it was the computer lab desktops that they struggled to use.  Now, I'm finding that young students are having a much harder time accessing and using the laptops, and manipulating the trackpad in particular.  The proliferation of tablets and smartphones has a lot to do with this, as many of our students are coming in having used an iPad or a Kindle, but not necessary a laptop or a desktop computer.  In addition to being more accessible to younger students, tablets also feature multimedia tools, like cameras and microphones, that are more accessible to students than they might be on a laptop or desktop, and don't require separate, often expensive, peripherals to capture the environment around them.  For these reasons, having iPads available to the students has been on my radar for some time, and I'm very happy to report that we will be purchasing a cart of these devices for our students to use this year!  I'm hoping to be able to deploy these devices by October, in addition to providing extensive professional development and support for teachers so that we are able to use them in new, innovative ways.  If we try to use the iPads like we are using the laptops, I believe that it will be very difficult for us to have a successful deployment.

3D Printing

The Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer at work!
I often like to tackle one project at a time, or a small number of projects at a time, new things that I want to bring into the school.  Student technology teams comprised the first couple of projects that I focused on, followed by LEGO robotics.  In many ways, these projects have spawned off new projects, as the number of students in my tech teams has multiplied significantly and I now coach two competitive LEGO League teams in addition to having robotics in the classroom.  Meanwhile, I have been eyeing a new type of project that I have wanted to get into:  3D printing!  Thanks to yet another grant from the Perloff foundation, I now have a 3D printer to use with students, and now have a classroom to house it in!  3D printing will be one of the more challenging things I will pursue this year.  LEGO robotics played more into my strengths because I have the skills and mindset to be able to program them the way that I want.  3D printing incorporates a little more design and art concepts, things I'm not very strong in at all.  Nonetheless, I think it will be a fun challenge and I can't wait to see what the kids can do with it!

The finished product!

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