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Big Foot doesn't plan to fall behind in technology age



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February 01, 2011 | 03:10 PM
Walworth — Here is a version of a popular joke in education.

After sleeping for 100 years, Rip Van Winkle wakes up and enters a business office to find a plethora of new technology. At the office, he is sickened by all the new gadgets and gizmos and heads to a hospital for treatment. At the hospital, he discovers technological advances and becomes ever more ill. Winkle is finally comforted when he enters a school and sees nothing has changed.

Although the joke may not be LOL, it is used to illustrate a point: schools are falling further behind businesses and industry, while at the same time students are relying more on text messages, Skype, Facebook and other mediums to communicate.

Educators at Big Foot High School understand this and are planning ways to implement new technology into the school. This includes developing a course centered around using technology, which is being called the "21st Century Pilot".

During a special session School Board meeting Monday night, the board approved the course, which "focuses on the technological skills needed in today's fast-paced realm of instant, worldwide communication. The learner-driven approach attempts to prepare students for today's global marketplace."

In the course, two teachers, Brian Lawton and Pat Hollihan, who teach English and History respectively, will serve as advisers.

The school plans to offer the course this fall, but because it is a pilot program it will only be available to 20 students.

On Monday night Lawton, who is also the school's vice principal, gave a presentation about introducing new technology into classrooms.

Lawton said today's students spend about 10-1/2 hours a day multitasking, which includes using social media, from Twitter to Facebook, while watching television and doing homework.

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"This is what they are doing and this is how they are brought up," Lawton said.

Lawton also said schools need to accept that kids will multitask.

Bringing in new technology in the classroom could include more Smart Boards, wireless Internet in all the classrooms and even cell phones, which teachers at the school could be open to.

A survey of Big Foot High School teachers indicates only 32 percent of them would be uncomfortable with students using cell phones for learning in the classroom.

The survey also showed the majority of teachers believe advance technology is necessary to prepare students for the future, but most of those teachers don't believe the district has this technology.

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Survey results indicate teachers want to embrace the new technology, but most feel more training is needed. In the survey, 14 percent of teachers at the school responded they received adequate technology training.

"Training is key. My 17-year-olds have a better grasp on new technology than I do," one teacher wrote in the comment section of the survey.

The 21st Century Class

Lawton said the details of the class are still being ironed out, but with the guidance of the advisers, students will design their own individualized projects.

"(Individualized projects) is really turning what we are used to upside down," Lawton said. "It has to do with students being in charge with their own education."

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With an individualized project, students could work with an adviser to develop assignments for the course.

The class also wouldn't have a traditional setting. Instead, it will take a "coffee-house approach to education," Lawton said.

"This isn't for everybody. There are some kids that will prefer the regular traditional model," Lawton said.

Another aspect of the pilot course is using 1:1 technology, which is when the district provides each student involved with a piece of technology, typically a laptop. The district plans on leasing equipment for this aspect of the course to minimize costs.

Lawton said schools that have used 1:1 technology have experienced immediate improvements in writing scores on standardized tests.

There are other challenges the school faces with infrastructure improvements. About half the school has wireless Internet access, but that access couldn't handle the traffic that would occur if all the students had laptops.

Obviously, providing all the students with laptops would come with a cost.

"I also think we are not in a position to provide one-on-one devices to all of our students at a given time," School Board Clerk Ed Hayden said.

Hayden, who said he is in favor of the course, also questioned school officials on how they would evaluate the course. Lawton said those details will need to come out, but the end of the course will include an evaluation.

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