Our Kindergartners Are Coding

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Tech Coordinator Jennifer Southmayd explains the District’s technology philosophy to a group of elementary parents.

A Look at the District’s Approach to Technology in School

Did you go to the West Chester Area School District’s parent technology night? It’s amazing how much learning has changed since the (cough) 20 (cough) years since I was in school. Gone are the projectors and slide decks and here to stay (well, at least until the next big innovation) the ipads and learning apps.

But I guess that’s the thing with technology what is cutting edge today is all but gone tomorrow. As Instructional Technology Coordinator – Elementary, and event MC, Jennifer Southmayd, pointed out last night,

“A 25 year old teacher has never lived a day in her life without [existence of] the internet. A kindergartner has never lived a day in his life without [existence of] an iPad or wireless internet.”

Of course, that internet was probably dial-up and that kindergartner has no idea what we are talking about. So how do you both embrace a technology yet simultaneously prepare for it to become obsolete? It’s a question the school district has obviously spent some time wrestling with.

In her presentation, Southmayd, quoted a stat from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). “65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at a job that has yet to be invented.”

So while the technology is important, even more so is teaching skills that are transferable across platforms, apps, or devices. Skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Providing constructive feedback, and crafting a respectful email; consulting (and sourcing) reputable resources, taking and editing a video to online safety – virtual stranger danger and cyber bullying and how to create a secure password.

Want to talk the talk? Here are some key technology terms you should know:

WCASD coding high school logo Henderson
The Henderson logo as viewed through the pixels of the computer screen. Part of a district-wide coding challenge.

1 to 1 Initiative –

This refers to the school district’s initiative to provide a computer to every 7th to 12th-grade student. Each student receives a Dell laptop computers preloaded with Microsoft Office. The district is looking to expand the initiative to include 6th graders beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. While extremely generous, note the program is not 100% free. Each student is responsible for covering a $50 portion of the warranty and insurance costs.

Apple WC

All K-6 classrooms are equipped with iPads. Students use the iPads to access a selection of age appropriate apps and learning tools. In addition, West Chester has a contract with Apple to help integrate technology into their lesson plans.

BYOT –

Bring Your own Tech. Any student that chooses to opt out of the 1 to 1 initiative may instead BYOT.

Coding

WCASD starts kids coding from Kindergarten. In those early grades they work with a robotic bumble bees called, Bee-Bot and Blue-Bot. The friendly little bees get kids used to programming language and sequencing – go forward, turn left, turn right. By high school they are tackling much more complex problems like creating an algorithm to interpret computer screen pixelation and recreate their school logo using post-it notes. If like me you got a little lost in the description, here’s a video of the students in action.  

Google Apps/GAPPS

West Chester also participates in Google for Education. Google provides a suite of free, secure productivity tools including popular tools like Gmail and Google Docs to enable easy classroom collaboration and sharing.

In addition to Google and Apple here is a list of Apps approved by the district.

Parent Portal

Not so much a classroom tool, this is where you’ll check their student’s grades, attendance, access report cards, and view course recommendations. Need help creating an account? You can find it here.

SAMR Model

Standing for Substitute – Augment – Modify – Redefine- SAMR is a teaching model that encourages teachers to better integrate technology into their curriculum starting with simple substitution, replacing a written math problem on the board to one answered on an iPad – and working up to redefinition – using technology to achieve a higher level solution (see the float example from above).

Seesaw

No, not the playground equipment. This is the primary technology interface used by the K-2 crew. Seesaw serves as the student’s (and parent’s) introduction to technology in the classroom. It’s a sharing platform that lets students and teachers communicate with parents, administrators and other classrooms. Primary benefits include easy interfaces and automatic translations. Southmayd described it as an “instant conversation starter” for its ability to give parents details to add to the the dreaded, “What did you do today?” conversation.   

Schoology –

is a district learning management system now being used from 3rd through 12th grade. This is the first year for the 3-5 grade students but 6-12th grade teachers have been using it for two years. Schoology works to improve student performance, foster collaboration and personalize learning (little Schoology website copy for you there). It also serves as a platform to bring all the lessons together. As one third grade teacher explained, she uses it to coordinate a project where students are asked to design their own parade float then launch it down a virtual parade route.

Parent of a Schoology age kid? There’s an account for you too. Sign up here

I know technology in the classroom has its drawbacks – it can be a distraction and hinder social interaction – but I also, can’t help but be a little jealous at the learning environment it fosters for students today.

Want more education stories? Did you know West Chester is facing a looming classroom shortage? Want more tech? See how West Chester is preparing for an future with electric cars – and where exactly in the Borough they are likely to be. Want more West Chester? Follow along!

 

 

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