MONTROSE – It's after lunch at Oak Grove Elementary School, and students are swiping their fingers across touch screens and scrolling through pictures of Sir John Hopkins, Rosa Parks, Walt Whitman and Thomas Edison while researching the most influential people of modern history.
The assignment in Barrett Bashoar's fifth-grade writing class is a research project: students must choose an influential person in American history and then create a digital multimedia presentation on that person’s life using the classroom’s new iPads.
The new age of digital technology has found its way to Oak Grove, the district's oldest school, founded in the 1880s. Last year, Oak Groves' Parent Teacher Committee appropriated funds to equip the school with wireless internet, digital projectors and webcams. Their aim was to better prepare students for the new digital world. Each of the school’s 24 teachers received iPads. Students were given 30 iPad Minis for to share..
"It was important to get the infrastructure first,” said Oak Grove Principal Dana Burwell. “Without the infrastructure, there is no point” in getting the devices, she said. The iPads give staff “another tool to reach students, empowering students and teachers.
“It expands the walls of the classroom,” Burwell said.
The iPad Mini devices are tricky at first for some; other students take to the tablet computer and its programs quickly.
Burwell, now in her second year at Oak Grove – she came to Montrose from Garfield County, where, she says, classroom technology was “decades ahead” of Montrose – says the school’s integration of the new digital devices is "very much in its infancy."
Bashoar and Burwell agree the new devices are exciting. More than just gadgets, they are also critical learning tools to help engage teachers and students.
Although students use the devices to research and explore, Bashoar said, it is the role iPads play in helping students learn basic skills, such as how to organize information to use in reports and presentations, that makes them invaluable – so invaluable, in fact, that when the iPad Minis migrate to other classrooms, he often has to re-teach the already-covered basics. "There are not enough to go around,” Bashoar stressed, “not enough.” When it’s his classroom’s turn for the Minis, he said, "The kids love it. They're very engaged.”
Oak Grove joins a growing list of Montrose schools using tablet computers in the classroom. Last semester, Columbine Middle School received a generous private donation to begin its journey towards technological integration. At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, a group of excited students showcased the technology, presenting science projects and classroom reports to an enthusiastic audience of school-board members and parents.
With millions of dollars lost to budget cuts and heavy staff cuts over the past seven years, the district had put the acquisition of new technology on hold, as it struggled to weather the recession. Bashoar said Pads allow students to connect with one another instantly.
Now, with the economy slowly recovering, the district hopes to catch up with other districts, and gauge for itself what role the iPads will play in Montrose public education. "We can't move forward until we catch up with everyone else," Burwell said, adding that Oak Grove teachers are being trained in how to best utilize their time with the iPads and become "digital educators."
Achieving the district's vision of putting more devices into students’ hands will fall to its new Director of Technology, Steve Mcewin, who says that by summer, all schools will have WiFi. Other basic infrastructure improvements by the end of the school year will include upgrades to the district's server fleet, broadband services, IT ventilation, backup solutions to equipment and improved email.
Last week, the school board approved a mill levy increase of $2.9 million to be put before voters in November. If approved, it will be used to hire 27 new teachers, adding three extra professional development days per teacher every school year, classroom renovations and new digital technology.