Google has been in the spotlight for many years for their commitment to making the internet more organized with a search engine. Their importance has even brought them into our homes and our language with smart phones (Android) and daily conversation (just Google it). This year, Google has also come into our schools.
Northland Pines School District has become one of many districts that have moved into the world of Google Apps For Education (GAFE). As a GAFE school, Pines has embraced the 21st century and provided all students and staff with tools to be effective and productive. At the end of July 2013, the Information and Technology Department (IT) turned off the old email software and asked building secretaries, maintenance and custodial, administration and staff to begin using Gmail. After a minor period of adjustment, the new email was accepted.
As the summer progressed and Pines prepared for the return of the students, the high school adopted a 1:1 computing program and began using Google Chrome and GAFE as the primary tool for students and education. Just like the staff and administration had during the summer, students were now in a world of Gmail, Google Docs and YouTube.
“The decision wasn’t easy,” admits Scott Foster, Director of Technology for the District. “we researched it, talked to other schools and piloted Google Apps in our district before deciding this was the best direction.” The best direction includes increased productivity and collaboration amongst staff and students.
Dave Strong, District Technology Coach, explains the impact. “You see, Google Docs allows everyone in the district to share documents with one another. This enables them to actually work in a document simultaneously; saving on the need to print or email the document back and forth. It’s a huge time saver.”
Google Apps has become an important part of the implementation and function of SOAR, the new Charter School in Land O’ Lakes. SOAR is about a change in instruction. Students attend the physical school Monday through Thursday and then on Friday they work from home or alternative sites. Fridays also allow for students to work on their projects, meet with a mentor, or perform community service. Besides time, the other big instructional method change, is students complete projects to meet all their academic standards. Instead of having Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies as separate subjects, students and advisors come up with projects; academic content areas are learned in the process of completing a project.
SOAR students are preparing themselves for life, not just the next grade. SOAR classrooms are multi-age, all grades are mixed together. Students are challenged by their ability and effort. SOAR is a public school and operates in conjunction with the Northland Pines School District. Students spend more time working with “experts” on topics as well as other great resources that cannot be found on the internet or in the library. SOAR has strong partnerships with the Land O’ Lakes Community Library, the Conserve School and the Land O’ Lakes Artisans. Students use technology to help research, communicate and produce content used to complete their projects. Students use technology as a tool, not just because they have it.
Northland Pines High School has made one of the most significant changes this year. By adopting a 1:1 education model, Pines has committed to putting a device in the hands of every student. This enables equal access at school to technology and resources.
“This levels the playing field for our students.” Dave Strong commented. “There’s no more waiting for computer labs to open up or frustration from students who don’t have the technology available at home.” Each student was provided with a Samsung Chromebook at the beginning of the year. Students are responsible for care of their chromebooks and make sure they have it charged and ready to be used when they arrive at school in the morning. An additional 37 Chromebooks are in service through the Library Media Center (LMC) that students can check out for a short period of time or all day if they need to. “The majority of the time it’s because someone forgot to charge it overnight and needs a loaner for a short period of time; maybe just until lunch.” says Strong. “On occasion there’s warranty work or breakage. In any event, it’s nice that they can still have access to their work once they have a loaner.”
This access comes in the form of Google Apps for Education. Since all the information is connected to an account rather than a device, students are able to log-in to any computer with an internet connection and access their work. It’s a handy way for them to have access to educational resources no matter where they are.
The beginning of a new semester brings an exciting milepost for both students and teachers. Staff have access to a Learning Management System (LMS) at the school to prepare them for the future. Haiku (LMS) provides a platform for teachers to build in online components to their classes while providing a portal for students to access information, complete assignments and even take quizzes and tests.
Jim Brewer, High School Principal, explained the benefits. “Having a 1:1 environment at the high school has significantly impacted student learning. Students are able to engage in their education individually as well as collaboratively. When I walk around the school I see a change, a good change and our students are receiving a top notch education.”
The face of education has changed and Pines has really stepped up to provide the tools and resources available to help prepare our students to be critical thinking, productive adults in our community.