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Tech in the Classroom – Purpose vs. Screen Time

May 12, 2016

At a recent meeting with several teachers, the discussion centered around community perceptions of the ‘Next Generation” classrooms.  A few of the teachers reported they have heard concerns from parents about “too much screen time” when they discuss the use of technology in classrooms.  As we explored this line of thinking, it became apparent that many parents and community members are not fully cognizant of how technology enhances the classroom experience rather than detract from it.

The time that the students are productively using devices vs. just having access to devices in the classrooms is a point that needs clarification.  Additionally, the way in which technology functions in the school setting often differs dramatically from the way in which students use technology in social situations or home environments. For example, I allow my children to watch Netflix and play FIFA for recreation.  This type of use is not an activity that occurs at school. The use of technology at school (during class time) is purposeful, and aligned with curricular goals.

The other underlying bias is that technology is distracting.  Frank Furedi, in “Focus Fracus” (Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 2015) notes the parallel between today’s perceived technology-induced distraction and the fear felt when Socrates warned that writing would weaken students’ memory capacity.  Similarly, panic ensued in the 1700’s over mass-market publications that led to “book madness” and “reading mania” that somehow the lust for reading fiction would cause readers to lose control of their lives.  Furedi concludes,  “In the end, what motivates students is not the availability of fancy gadgets, but the quality of the content included in the lessons. Instead of blaming the supposed Age of Distraction or turning the classroom into a digital playpen, we should think harder about how we can earn the attention of our students.”  Gaining the attention of the students begins with well-designed lessons. The delivery of that content is facilitated through strong pedagogy and the use of instructional technology.

In the Next Generation classrooms, students have access to endless information at the touch of a button. The classroom extends far beyond the school room walls in these 21st Century learning spaces. Making global connections, becoming more culturally aware, and discovering new ideas are explored through authentic and project-based lessons. Ultimately, the intent is to prepare students to live, work, and play in an increasingly more complex society.  Technology is the vehicle by which these experiences flourish.

 

We want to know… what you want to know…

January 4, 2016

Dear SAS Community,

These are exciting times for the Saline Area Schools. Voters recently passed a new $67.5 million bond that will help fund district improvements for at least the next decade. Now that the bond has passed, we need your input. Specifically, we want to know how you’d prefer to receive information about bond-related projects.

To learn more about your preferences, we will conduct focus groups on Jan. 25 and 26. The information collected will help us understand how you’d prefer to receive information about the new bond, including the types of projects we’ll be working on and how they stand to impact the district.

If you are interested in participating in these focus groups, please sign up online from January 5 to January 19.

All Saline Area Schools parents will receive a personal survey invitation via email. Community members can sign up for the focus groups at http://tinyurl.com/SASSchoolBond.

This bond measure stands to transform teaching and learning at the Saline Area Schools for years to come. Thanks in advance for your candid feedback.

I look forward to sharing our progress with you.

Sincerely,

Scot Graden

Superintendent

Saline Area Schools

Holiday Gift Ideas

December 17, 2015

Gift

Since many families in our community are giving gifts to their children (our students) over the next fews weeks – here is my shameless plug to consider items that support our learning targets.

  • Books – You can never go wrong with books. Consider non-fiction titles like biographies, autobiographies, travel/geography, how-to, and science/technology options. (Magazine subscriptions can also be a good fit for non-fiction reading.)
  • e-Readers – Same as above but in Kindle, iPad, iPad Mini or Surface format.
  • Legos – Always popular and great for creativity.  They can also help build dexterity and develop math and pattern skills.  They also have a product called “Chain Reactions” that involve design and build activities.
  • Technology – This area can be pricey, however, we are encouraging our students at many grade levels to bring their laptop, tablets, and smartphones to class to use as a learning tool. Google Chromebooks are a relatively inexpensive option for laptop and they work well on our network.

Feel free to comment with other educational gift ideas.

Successful $67.5M Bond Proposal Represents a Victory in Community Engagement

November 24, 2015

Bonds proposals are tricky business.

When Saline Area Schools sought community support for our $67.5 million bond measure earlier this year, a few thousand votes stood between needed safety & security improvements, infrastructure updates, and a potentially transformative school reform package.

Our facilities were aging and in need of a serious overhaul. If passed, the sweeping bond measure would give our staff the time—and the resources—to upgrade aging buildings, create safer, more engaging learning environments and significantly limit maintenance and upkeep costs, among other benefits.

A quick tour of the district and the need was glaring. Though it hardly mattered. There was no guarantee the bond would pass. The district had lost two separate bond measures.

This year, everything changed. An improved economy, coupled with a renewed commitment to engaging community members—including parents and other taxpayers—paved the way to a historic victory.

Rather than ask the community to blindly support our latest bond measure, the district engaged the community.  We launched Let’s Talk!, an online communications platform that allows parents and other community members to engage in two-way conversations with district decision makers. The technology, is accessible through a tab on our district website. It demonstrates our commitment to listening and responding to community concerns and provides an always-on platform for addressing misinformation on social media and in the press.

When a group of community members wanted to know what kinds of school busses the district intended to purchase with taxpayer dollars, we were able to answer them—fast. Let’s Talk! existence helped allay stakeholders’ concerns, and demonstrated our commitment to transparency with voters. The result: more support, and deeper understanding of the issues, come decision time.

Collectively, our community understood that the bond was critical to the district’s long-term plans. When the bond passed, the change in sentiment was palpable. Our staff felt supported by our community. Our community, in turn, felt empowered by our staff. Trust in our school system was restored.

Now, as we head into the holiday season and the New Year, teachers, staff and community members can move forward together, bonded by a single mission: to improve the school experience for years to come.

I want to personally thank every staff member and community member who contributed to this important victory. Your undying commitment has forever shaped a brighter future for our schools—and, more important, for our students.

Thank you!

Asking Good Questions

October 6, 2015

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Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.Robert Half

In a fast-paced, technology-infused learning environment, students have quick access to information, answers and research. Finding answers is easy;  knowing how to manage the information is quite another matter.  One of the most important practices that a teacher can use to deepen learning, build a growth mindset and help students become aware of their thinking is asking well-designed questions.  Masterful teachers innately and purposefully ask questions that can lead to specific learning targets.  In theory, students are questioned at all stages of learning: understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.  Early in a unit, the questions simply stimulate curiosity: “What do we want to know?”  Later in the unit, the questions might have an analytical focus: “What do you think might happen next?”

With preposterous access to information, questions that simply require students to repeat facts are easy to solve. However, information garnered via the Internet has little long-term value.  Teachers need to focus on developing questions that prompt students to ask additional questions – to consider multiple responses, to build habits of mind.

Developing questioning techniques that foster deeper thinking and inspire students to consider various viewpoints takes time and practice. Master teachers design questions targeted toward each learning goal. Good questioning helps students achieve at high levels not only in the specific content area, but also teaches valuable life skills: persistence, risk-taking, flexibility, listening, cultural awareness, and interdependence.

Asking specific, thought-provoking questions is a tool that teachers and parents can use to stimulate learning.  Typically, the response that parents hear to the question, “What did you do at school today?” is, “Nothing.”  Rather than ask such a broad question, help guide the child with leading questions that are specific to the student’s learning environment.

  • Wow!  I like the squirrel picture that you drew. Why do you think a squirrel has a bushy tail?
  • Tell me about the science experiment that you did today.  What conclusions did you draw?
  • I see that your homework is about photosynthesis. What is that process?
  • What games did you play on the playground today? Can  you think of a way to include more friends?
  • Do you think that you could explain common denominators to me?

Examples such as these will keep students thinking about learning and help to extend and commit that learning to memory.

The mission of the Saline Area Schools is to create lifelong learners. Asking open-ended questions that encourage flexible thinking and reflection is a strategy to achieve that goal.

Protecting Student Data – Technology & Policy

October 2, 2015

Student Computers

One of the topics related to the technology focus of the November 3rdProtect Our Future” bond proposal is the need to address – in systemic ways – how student data is protected and managed.  There are few aspects of the school system that are more critical to consider than the matter of safely securing and managing student data.  First, educators value high-quality educational data. It is essential when striving to improve student achievement through instructional or pedagogical changes. Second, data can empower administrators, teachers, parents, and students with the information needed to make effective decisions that can benefit all learners.  So, how do we ensure that the data is secure and managed as effectively as possible?

First, we need to make sure that the infrastructure, hardware and firewall systems are up to date. Robust hardware, up to date software, and effective network architecture are all necessary to safeguard, access and use the student data.  Realistically, this is an expensive proposition.  These safety upgrades are prudent and necessary moving into an increasingly more technologically based society. Hence, there is the obligation to ask voters to consider these upgrades with the November 3 bond proposal.

The second consideration is to streamline internal processes by limiting the data necessary to support and improve student learning.  Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.  We need to ask continually whether these particular data are necessary to aid in the learning process and improve student achievement outcomes.  Whenever possible, aggregate data are used without personally identifying individual students.  This data is valuable when evaluating programs and services.

Student privacy and data security matters are ongoing concerns within the educational system.   Diligence in the selection of robust hardware, software, and network efficacy aid in structural protection. Consistent, undeviating review of policy, practice and training reduces human error. Having the necessary resources to implement this two-pronged approach to safeguarding student data is necessary in the Saline Area Schools. Remember to vote on the November 3 “Protect Our Future” bond proposal.

Safe, Warm, Dry and Prepared for the Future!

September 24, 2015

In a few weeks you’ll be asked to weigh in on whether you think our school district should issue a $67.5 million bond to improve our educational infrastructure and facilities over the next several years.

The bond proposal includes funding to:

● Safety & Security updates and upgrades at all school buildings

● Infrastructure updates to improve energy efficiency

● Updates and upgrades for instructional technology

● Site improvements to Heritage/Woodland Meadows parking and drop-off/pick-up loop

● Purchase school buses to replace fleet over 10 years

● Develop turn lane on Campus Parkway at HS to allow better traffic flow

We are holding our second community forum to share more information about the proposal on Monday, October 19th at 7:00pm in the Liberty School Media Center. Please come to the forum and learn more.

If you have questions about the proposal, you can also you use our Let’s Talk site.

Thank you,

Scot Graden

gradens@salineschools.org

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