Educators on EdTech: Stuart Levy
by Maggie Summers
| 6/3/2014 10:39:08 AM
| 0 comments
In our Educators on EdTech series, we have conversations with education professionals about the way their school uses technology.
This month, I spoke with Stuart Levy, Teacher-Librarian at Inza R. Wood Middle School in Wilsonville, Oregon. Wood Middle is part of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, which is a K-12 public school system with around 8,400 students.
Maggie: As a Teacher-Librarian, can you give me an idea of what you do? Give me the rundown.
Stuart Levy: One thing about our district, which is not true for all districts, is we have IT staff as well as teacher-librarians, so we divide up technology tasks in that way. The IT staff are basically the ones in charge of making sure the equipment works, whereas our teacher-librarians’ job is to make sure people know how to use the technology—both on the basics of how to use it, but also how to use it best for teaching and learning.
So the actual decisions about how to use the technology to learn is mainly coming from the librarian side rather than IT?
Right and it was about 9 years ago when we actually made that possible. It used to be two IT people for the entire district and they were more in charge of helping teacher-librarians but the teacher librarians were in charge of all the stuff I mentioned. So [having a full IT staff] really freed us up to focus more on the curriculum side of technology, and not to be bogged down with having to fix and troubleshoot.
I heard your school has mini-laptops.
Yes. There are about 300 devices… I think at one time there were about 370, but some have broken, etc... We have the Dell 2100, with the 11” screen, I think. It’s really enough, number-wise, to have one device per two kids. Although they’re not assigned to kids; they’re assigned to teams of teachers. Each team of four teachers ideally has 38 devices, but because some have broken over time, they might not have the full 38.
Then there’s also the iPads, and for the most part it is teachers who have iPads, almost all of our teachers have iPads but not all of them do. The ones who do have school iPads also have an Apple TV that they could hook up to a projector so that can mirror their device with the Apple TV.
That’s a really good way to get around having 1 device for each kid. So if I’m the teacher and I’m using an iPad to stream through Apple TV, what would that look like?
It totally depends. Some are using it to show videos. There’s some apps, interactive apps, that they could demonstrate stuff, or they could hand [the iPad] to a kid at a desk so they can do something. Some people are just using it for the camera. So instead of bringing it up to the document camera for the classroom, the kid can hold the iPad right there and explain what’s on the paper at their desk.
Nice, so it’s sort of like a new-school projector…
Right, especially the whole untethered aspect of it. Part of it was to pilot them out there because we have a bond on the ballot in November and if it passes, part of it will definitely be getting more funding for technology. They don’t make those Dell minis anymore, so we’ll need something for kids.
A lot of our elementary schools already have sets of iPads, but in an elementary school it’s different because you have the kid assigned to that classroom, and a specific device. With secondary schools, we haven’t really figured out how to do that. You can’t have a teacher with a class set of iPads because it really is a personal device.
This way, at least, the teachers can try them out. You don’t want to bring something in that teachers aren’t familiar with or comfortable with, so this was the pilot year of having teachers use them.
That’s a great idea. I’ve talked with some school districts that have given all the devices out and now they don’t really know what to do with them. It seems smarter to have a small rollout at first and see how it goes.
That’s been our philosophy… to use those pioneers to try things out with a group of kids and then we can go more hog wild with it. Most teachers have desktop computers. There are a few teachers who have laptops, primarily wellness teachers or those who are more mobile.
So, speaking more generally, what would you say is your biggest challenge with this technology?
I would say it depends on the process of a rollout. When we first got 300 minis, storage was huge because we had the money to buy the minis, but we didn’t have the money to buy storage. Some schools went out and spent thousands and thousands of dollars on storage units, but we didn’t really have the money to do that, so we had to be more creative.
Crates became a big thing; six fit perfectly in a little milk crate so that’s what a lot of people have done. And for the most part, that’s worked out fine with our teams. So, that hasn’t been an issue anymore.
Now, on year five or six with those minis, the biggest challenge is just keeping them alive. But they’ve been very rugged and durable.
Do you fear that with iPads? That they’d be less rugged? I don’t know if an iPad would last five years.
I know. Again, they haven’t been used much in the middle school. In the elementary school, they’ve been fine; they really haven’t had an issue, but elementary schools are different in very many respects, especially the fact that it’s in a classroom as opposed to being brought around from room to room. It definitely is a fear.
You mentioned that in the district’s technology bond, you didn’t have extra money set aside for storage…
That has not been part of any bond. In our district, the philosophy has been that the district will buy the technology for the schools, but the schools have to use their own building money for the storage.
Which is interesting because it seems like it would kind of go hand in hand. Because when you get 300 devices delivered to your door…
…there were a lot of people upset when that happened. Some schools had a lot of parent support money where they could spend $10,000 on getting five carts. Because you know, the Anthro ones are really nice, but they’re expensive…
Right, and they get really expensive because one cart’s not going to do. You need ten or twelve, which ends up being a lot of money.
Exactly, so we couldn’t do that, though some schools did. For me, it would make sense that [carts] would be part of the bond, but I think the idea was they’d rather have the devices and then deal with storage.
Switching gears now: what’s your philosophy on technology in the classroom? How do you see it being used well in education?
There’s definitely a time and a place for technology, but for the most part, kids should have technology available when they need it, and in school, that’s most of the time. A 1:1 portable technology, whatever way that is, is going to be key. So, if they’re reading Tom Sawyer in 8th grade, they can pull out their device and not have to worry about losing the book, they can do all the marks on it, and so on.
We’re not there yet, but I know the vision of a lot of people is to have a 1:1. We give it to the kid, they have it all day, they can take it and use it at home. That’s a lot of what we’re doing as adults and it works.
I tend to get that answer from lots of educators, which makes sense because that’s how we use our devices. We don’t use them for one thing, and then put them away. It’s intuitive to have it with you all the time.
Stuart Levy: Well, when we first got the document cameras and the projectors at our school, I think we had like six. You had to check it out, and you had it for a week or two week, but you really couldn’t plan your class around that. It was once we were able to put them in all the classrooms that it totally changed how people taught.
So if students get to use a device for like two weeks in a social studies class, we can’t build the curriculum around it, but if they know—the teacher and the kids—that they have access to the device 24/7, then you can totally change how you instruct, how you learn and how you teach.
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