Getting to Know the District Technology Initiative

Getting to Know the District Technology Initiative

PHOTO: Ms. Jessica Iovinelli, D401's coordinator of instructional technology, discusses the District Technology Initiative during a recent public symposium.

By the end of this decade, every student at Elmwood Park High School and Elm Middle School will be assigned a laptop device, and all grades from 3rd to 12th will operate under Google Classroom.

District 401 officials shared this vision of the future with parents, students and community members at a recent series of public events that provided an overview of the District Technology Initiative.

The events were held Jan. 31 at John Mills Elementary School, Feb. 2 at Elmwood Elementary School and Feb. 6 at EPHS. Presentations were made by:

► Dr. Nicolas Wade, assistant superintendent for curriculum & instruction, who discussed the scope of the plan;

► Mr. Tom Kinane, director of technology, who discussed security;

► Ms. Jessica Iovinelli, coordinator of instructional technology, who discussed G Suite for Education;

► Ms. Rachel Swanson, instructional technology coach, who discussed Google Classroom.

PHOTO: Dr. Nicolas Wade, assistant superintendent for curriculum & instruction, speaks at the John Mills public symposium on the District 401 technology plan.

Why the Initiative?

Approved by the Board of Education in May 2016, the District Technology Initiative is designed to prepare D401 students to be 21st-century learners capable of thriving in a technology-dependent society.

"Technology is a universal key to unlocking student engagement for students at all skills and levels," Dr. Wade said. "It encourages personalized, individualized learning."

But the Initiative means more than giving students greater access to computers — although that's a major component. It also means seamlessly integrating the use of free Google web-based educational tools and apps, known as "G Suite for Education," throughout the curriculum in grades 3-12. 

Students in those grades will have their own secure Gmail accounts, a process that is already underway. Beginning next year, they will increasingly use tools and apps such as Google DriveDocsSheetsSlidesFormsSites, and Classroom.

PHOTO: Ms. Rachel Swanson, D401's instructional technology coach, outlines the main features of Google Classroom during the public symposium at Elmwood Elementary School.

Why Google?

Ms. Iovinelli explained the move to Google by emphasizing its flexibility, convenience and reliability, as well as its suitability for a curriculum based on blended learning:

► It works on all platforms.

  • Students and teachers can use it on their phone, Mac, PC, iPad, Chromebook, etc.
  • Students can start a project in class on a school device and work on it at home on a parent’s device.
  • Students no longer need flash drives — and teachers no longer need to listen to excuses related to forgotten or lost flash drives!

► It’s paperless.

  • No worries if a student doesn’t have a printer at home.
  • “My dog ate it” doesn’t even make sense as an excuse anymore.

► It saves automatically.

  • The Google platform continuously saves work — once every half second.
  • Students and teachers no longer have to worry about losing work if the power goes out.

► Storage is virtually limitless. 

  • Google uses the "cloud" — a network of servers — for storage, which simply means storing data and programs over the Internet instead of on a computer's hard drive.
  • With no storage limits to worry about, students will be able to keep their work throughout their D401 career, from 3rd grade to EPHS graduation.

► It builds college and career readiness.

  • Even if students attend colleges or work for companies that don't use Google products, D401 graduates can easily transfer their experience working in a cloud-based environment to other platforms.

► It's perfect for collaboration.

  • Multiple users can work on the same document, insert comments in the margins or just let others take a peek at what they're working on.

PHOTO: Ms. Jessica Iovinelli gives an overview of G Suite for Education during the Technology Initiative public symposium at Elmwood Park High School.

Emphasizing the Four C's

Indeed, G Suite for Education is designed specifically to focus on the four C's of active learning: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. 

This is exemplified by Google Classroom, a free, web-based platform that brings together G Suite services for teachers and students in tightly integrated and secure paperless classes. (Watch this video to see how it works.)

► Google Classroom makes it easy for teachers to distribute and grade assignments, link to lessons and resources, communicate with their students and track student progress. 

► Classroom allows students to stay organized by setting up one Drive folder for each class or teacher. Class materials are automatically filed into the appropriate Drive folder, and a social media-like "stream" notifies students when work is assigned and due.

► The same features that enable teachers to communicate with students in Classroom also allow students to communicate and collaborate with each other. 

Ultimately, Ms. Iovinelli said, using Google means "more teaching and less 'tech'-ing."

PHOTO: Mr. Tom Kinane, D401's director of technology, talks at the Elmwood Elementary School symposium about making the District Technology Initiative secure for students.

The Timeline at a Glance

Instead of happening all at once, the Initiative's timeline calls for the increased use — "saturation" — of devices and Google apps in grades 3-12 next year, followed by 1:1 implementation at EPHS in 2018-19 and at Elm in 2019-20.

► 2017-18

  • Elm Middle School and Elmwood Park High School will be operating under Google Classroom.
  • All grade levels will see an increased number of devices.

► 2018-19

  • Elmwood Park High School will be 1:1 — that is, each student will be equipped with a device. (The specific device has yet to be decided upon.)

► 2019-20

  • All grade levels from 3rd to 12th will operate under Google Classroom.
  • Elm Middle School will be 1:1.

During this process, Elmwood Elementary and John Mills Elementary will benefit from the movement of existing laptop carts from the high school and middle school. This will double their number of devices, so that all their teachers and students will have increased opportunities for the use of instructional technology throughout the day.

Other elements of the Initiative include:

► Movement toward e-texts.

► Exploration of technology-related curriculum opportunities (e.g., computer principles, robotics, engineering) for possible incorporation.

► Continued professional development and support for faculty and staff at all grade levels.

PHOTO: Parents and students attending the John Mills Elementary School public symposium learn about District 401's technology plan.

How the District Is Preparing

Dr. Wade noted that some districts have implemented ambitious 1:1 plans without first training their faculty members in the best ways to use the new technology.

District 401 wanted to avoid that, he said, by providing solid professional development to its teachers and staff in 2016-17 before saturation begins in 2017-18. This preparation includes:

► Training for teachers and staff members focusing on G Suite for Education and migration over to Gmail and Google Calendar.

  • Teachers are receiving eight half-day training sessions this year on tools that include Google Drive, Docs, Forms, Sheets, Slides, Search, Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, YouTube and Hangouts
  • Administrators, secretaries, aides and nurses also have trainings this year.
  • Four half-day trainings for staff are planned each year for the following two years.

► Creation of an Instructional Technology Department to provide current and future assistance to students and staff.

► Expansion of the Technology Department’s personnel to meet demand and necessity.

► Community outreach to educate parents and stakeholders about what the Initiative means for them and the District's students.

PHOTO: The audience at the EPHS public symposium included parents, teachers and administrators from both the high school and Elm Middle School.

The Results So Far

Already this training is paying off with positive feedback from D401 teachers eager to incorporate Google tools into their lesson plans, said Dr. Wade.

"It is fascinating to me how so many teachers are using G Suite to solve a particular dilemma or assist them in their endeavors," he said. "Whether it is to develop a needs assessment, communicate with parents, flip the classroom to do something 'new' for the students, collect and share information of importance to them, and so on. All of this without any real directive with 'teeth' from District Office."

According to Ms. Iovinelli, examples of how D401 teachers are using Google this year include:

► Conversion of research projects/papers into Google Docs for collaborative work and peer editing;

► Google Slide presentations constructed collaboratively by students (each student has responsibilities for a certain slide, contributing to a larger project);

► Use of Google Sheets for charting science experiments, predictions, graphing and results;

► Use of Google Arts & Culture for closer studies on art mediums, time periods, art history;

► Use of Google Forms for student business ventures as well as surveys of staff and peer opinion.

The District's proactive training approach has even garnered attention from educators outside D401, Dr. Wade said.

"While a lot of the information for staff is incredibly new, I do believe that we are operating at a different level from other districts who already moved toward 1:1," he said. "I have heard from many other districts and building administrators and teachers, who are aware of our approach, positively complementing our approach and suggesting a wish they did it similarly in the beginning."

PHOTO: Parents ask questions during Elmwood Elementary School's public symposium on the District Technology Initiative.

For More Information

Interested in learning more about the Technology Initiative? Be sure to visit the IT Department's website, where Ms. Iovinelli and Ms. Swanson provide frequent updates about the latest ways in which D401 teachers are using Google tools in their classrooms.

And don't forget to bookmark the site — it's the go-to resource for all things Google in D401!

PHOTO: Ms. Jessica Iovinelli, D401's coordinator of the Instructional Technology Department, highlights the advantages of incorporating Google tools and apps into the District's curriculum.

PHOTO: Ms. Rachel Swanson, D401's instructional technology coach, walks her audience through an explanation of how Google Classroom operates.

PHOTO: There was plenty of time for audience members to discuss the Technology Initiative with D401 officials after each public symposium. 

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