The Ottumwa Courier

November 12, 2013

Technology changing the classroom environment

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Technology is finding its way into every facet of life, and the classroom is no exception. The difference is, though, what you're getting out of it at the end of the day.

At Monday's school board meeting, Ottumwa High School government teacher Scott Guest brought several of the tablets his students get to use while in his classroom. There are 30 tablets on a cart in his room that students sign out when they come in.

"We were going to order new textbooks, but we decided this was the better way to go," Guest said.

"They're engaged in ideas that are at a higher level. It's not just basic recall of facts or memorization of dates. It's 'Can you make a claim, back it up with facts and explain your position?'"

The tablets are used to look up information and read many different kinds of articles and documents. They're not being used to submit assignments or take tests, but the information the students are gleaning from is endless.

"I think one of the biggest things I see is that kids are thinking more in my class. That can transfer over into so many things," he explained. "I'm not saying 'OK, turn to page 330 and we're going to study chapter eight.'"

Guest's assignments are also all online, giving them easy access anywhere in the building, at home or any computer with Internet access. Parents can get an access code and use the same program to follow along with what their kids are doing in class.

There is also a forum where students can post comments about their class discussions. While he's always patrolling for anything inappropriate, Guest said it's providing one more way for the teenagers to be involved.

"They may not speak out in class, but they will be more comfortable with the technology," he said.

The tablets were purchased partially with Legacy Foundation grants and partially from money set aside by the district, Superintendent Davis Eidahl told the board. They are just one of the ways the district is looking at how it can best support the curriculum being taught in the classroom.

"It's part of our three-year vision. Other departments and other teachers will receive this training, and there may be other types of technology that will help, too," Eidahl said.

This new technology has also had a personal impact, Guest admitted.

"It's rejuvenated my outlook on teaching, to be honest," he said. "I'm doing less lecturing. They say the average attention span is about eight minutes for a teenager. With this, they're actively learning.

"And I'm challenged more because I'm not just turning to the next page in the book. I have to do more planning. And with our government, there are endless topics to teach."

Other agenda items at the meeting included:

• The board approved an application to the School Budget Review Committee for modified allowable growth. This is based on three factors: one-time funding modified allowable growth for increasing enrollment, modified allowable growth for open enrollment and modified allowable growth for LEP instruction beyond five years.

Eidahl said the district is eligible to submit an application that allows them to increase the spending authorization for each of these factors. Basically, he added, it was raising the "credit limit" and allows for flexibility in the future.

• Approval was given to submit an application for the innovative school calendar for the 2014-15 school year. The state also allows each school district to apply by Nov. 1 for a school calendar waiver. The state requires 180 days in the classroom or 1,080 hours. The district applied last year then decided not to use it. Any change in the calendar would have to be designed to increase student achievement.

• In a separate but similar action, the board approved an early start day for next school year as well. The state has legislated a start date, but a waiver can be submitted with board approval. Almost every district has applied in the past, basically for local control versus state mandate. Ottumwa traditionally begins the third Wednesday of August, and the waiver will allow this to continue next year.