Amy Manhart’s eighth-grade class buzzed with energy. Teenagers fidgeted and looked expectantly toward the front of the room where Manhart stood going over rules for their education devices for this year — brand-new iPads.
Teton County School District No. 1 is distributing iPads at Jackson Hole Middle School this week and laptops at Jackson Hole High School next week as part of the district-wide blended learning initiative.
“The purpose of the blended learning initiative is to give all students anytime access to information so they can grow in their thinking and understanding of the content areas being studied,” Superintendent Gillian Chapman said in a statement. “Through this initiative we are shifting the learning ecology from pencil and paper to digital storage and retrieval.”
Holly Voorhees-Carmical, director of support services, was helping to assist with device distribution.
“The world is global, and this kind of technology will help our students be competitive internationally,” Voorhees-Carmical said. “I truly believe that if kids don’t have access to tools to advance internationally, they’re behind the curve.”
Manhart reinforced the same idea to her students during the technology distribution on Monday.
“Technology is everywhere,” she said. “Being able to manipulate and use technology is key.”
She used an example of a soccer ball and a soccer player for context. If soccer players get to practice with a soccer ball only one or two times a week they won’t be the best players they could be. But if players have constant access and practice frequently, they’ll be skilled and ready to face their competition.
The students have ground rules for their new devices. They include charging the devices every day for class, not sharing their devices or their passwords and not putting personal decoration on the devices since they’ll be returned at the end of the year.
“No one wants to see ‘My Pretty Pony’ stickers on their iPad next year,” Manhart said.
If students do forget their devices at home, Voorhees-Carmical said there would be backups available. Students may also have to share on occasion if too many don’t bring their devices to class.
Manhart also encouraged the eighth-graders to treat their devices not only as if they were their own, but even better than their own — so no Frisbee playing with the Apple technology in the halls.
Only school-appropriate content for educational purposes should be viewed on the devices.
“Just imagine me peeking over your shoulder,” Manhart said. “If I was shocked and appalled by what I would see, don’t do it.”
Some eyes widened at that line, while other kids giggled nervously.
The devices are preloaded with apps that the district’s educational services department have carefully curated and selected to enhance the curriculum. Some examples include Powerschool to check grades, the Google suite, Nearpod, Padlet, Read Naturally and the NWEA MAP Testing application for the standardized Northwest Evaluation Association standardized Measures of Academic Progress assessment.
Once cords were handed out and rules were repeated, students were given the go-ahead to turn them on. Cheers broke out as the devices were powered up.
Eighth-graders got their iPads Monday, seventh-graders Tuesday and sixth-graders today. That means just this week, 639 students will receive iPads. Laptops will be passed out in the high school next week.
Voorhees-Carmical sees the devices as helping to equalize students.
“Technology equalizes,” she said. “If you narrow the opportunity gap, ideally the achievement gap will lessen, too.”
Any change to the learning process will involve some trial and error on behalf of the administration, teachers and students.
“As a district, we are committed to supporting students and teachers in the transition so teachers can craft meaningful opportunities to stretch students by giving them access to a variety of tools to form their opinions,” Chapman said.
Teachers have undergone professional development training to build their capacity for teaching with the new devices. Michelle Roundy has been spearheading these efforts.
“We want to make sure they’re supported,” Voorhees-Carmical said.
Diane Woodard and the entire technology team has been “working timelessly” to distribute devices to hundreds of students, according to information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds.
Woodard, the secondary technology instructional and district technology coordinator, has been working with a team of eight staff who ultimately recommended bringing a blended learning initiative to the district.
Also on the team are Tracy Poduska, Kathy Milburn, Matt Rodosky, Dr. Scott Crisp, Matt Hoelscher, Jennifer Kilgrow and Brad Barker.