District vision for technology outlined

Fifth-graders Katherine Vandenberg, left, Ian Seng and Mallory Zeleny watch on Thursday to see how the robot progresses through the hopscotch game it has been programmed to play. The Whitetail Creek Elementary students are learning to program the robots to complete the movements necessary to successfully navigate the course.

Fifth-grade students are programming robots to complete a game of hopscotch drawn on the floor of the technology lab at Whitetail Creek Elementary School.

The students work together to code the robots and set them on their path. As the robots maneuver the course, the students watch closely, regrouping to try again when the outcome is not as expected and cheering when they succeed. Some students are on their hands and knees with the robots, others work at computers around the room. All of the students are talking, laughing, asking questions and offering suggestions on this Thursday afternoon.

“It’s loud, and it’s messy sometimes,” said Paul Clark, a technology teacher at the school. “But the students are engaged and enthusiastic about learning.”

While the students are learning to code, they also are learning to think critically, solve problems and work together, Clark said.

The robots are just one example of the project-based instruction that technology teachers have adopted in grades 3 through 5 throughout the district and just one component of the technology vision developed for the district.

The district’s technology team, which includes Clark and other teachers in the district, presented this vision to the Gretna Board of Education at its Feb. 8 meeting. Understanding the growing and continuing importance of technology in everyday life, the board has committed to keeping pace in the district.

At the high school level, the board counts beginning to implement 1-to-1 technology as one of its 2016 goals.

“We know it’s the way we have to go,” board president David Gulizia said. “We’re committed to this.”

While funding may be the biggest piece of this puzzle, the presentation also outlined a need for staff and curriculum development in order for the addition of tablets for each student to be successful.

In addition to the advent of 1-to-1 technology at the high school, the report also outlined a need to provide opportunities for advanced technology training and dual credit courses, to work with the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Metro Community College, to partner with businesses to provide real world experiences for students and to prepare students for professional opportunities.

The technology mission statement included in the report reads “every student, every day, collaborating, creating and problem solving.” To this end, the committee envisions developing a common student technology experience with common assessment measures.

The report uses standards created by the International Society for Technology in Education as its guide. These standards focus on creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills for students with just one that is technology specific.

At the elementary school level, the team outlined its vision to achieve this goal. For grades kindergarten through second, students will meet weekly with technology teachers to learn basic skills. These ideas may also be integrated into their regular classroom work.

For those students in third through fifth grade, project-based instruction, such as the robots, will be used. Students will learn through a variety of projects, including robots, 3D printing and wearable art with programmed lights and sounds.

At the middle- and high-school levels it becomes more difficult to create equitable technology experiences among students, the report said.

At the middle-school level, sixth- and seventh-grade students work with a technology teacher for six weeks at a time while eighth-graders have the option of a technology elective.

At the high school, the experiences of students vary widely as some students encounter technology in math and science classes while others only use technology in writing or English classes. Creating an equitable experience for these students will be one of many challenges faced, the technology report stated.

The technology team recommended that updating the technology vision be a continuing process, formally every three years.

“We haven’t finished anything. We’re just getting started,” Superintendent Kevin Riley said after the presentation at the board meeting.

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