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Technology: a proven way of teaching

Falls plans to continue technology integration to enhance learning

Dec. 11, 2012

Menomonee Falls - The Menomonee Falls School District is not integrating technology in the classroom because that's the wave of the future. Rather, it is moving toward a digitally focused classroom because administrators saw first hand how it can drastically improve learning.

A group at the Menomonee Falls School District was able to see for themselves the benefits of technology when they traveled to Mooresville, N.C., in the beginning of October for an invitation-only summit for 150 school district members from across the nation. The summit was for select districts that were chosen because of their focus on student learning improvement and the need to integrate technology with instruction.

The Mooresville Graded School District has set the stage for integrating digital tools for students and staff to bridge learning gaps and enhance education. Six years ago, Mooresville launched a new strategic plan, which set goals of utilizing 21st-century resources in all classrooms.

In that time, Mooresville has managed to leap from being a midrange testing school district, to being the second highest performing district in the state.

Six staff members, including Director of Technology Jeff Nennig, Director of Curriculum and Learning Gary Kiltz and Superintendent Patricia Greco, traveled to Mooresville to see for themselves how students and teachers function in a digitally focused classroom. Greco was asked to serve on the Digital Promise Team, a national team focusing on creating models across the U.S. and integrating technology fully into the learning environment, which led the district to take part in the summit.

They shared their findings with the School Board on Monday.

Out of their visit they learned combining instruction with technology works. It not only improves student testing, but keeps students increasingly engaged in the classroom.

"Students were actively engaged in every classroom I went to," Nennig said. "There was a lot of energy in the classrooms, a lot of discussion, a lot of collaboration to solve problems and when you talk to the teachers, they say they had a learning target and they aligned their resources to those targets."

That is exactly what Falls has and is continuing to do. Using some of what they learned in Mooresville, Nennig said administration will continue its work on utilizing technology resources to develop curriculum in order to align with the Common Core. The Common Core is mandated curriculum districts have to align with by 2014.

Falls mirrors Mooresville

Falls is implementing similar digital tools throughout the district, following the Mooresville model. This includes the ninth-grade laptop pilot program and replacing desktop units with laptops for teachers. The two districts are similar in size; however, Mooresville has a higher poverty rate.

"The purpose tonight is to parallel what we're doing with Mooresville. We look at them and many other school districts in how they're operating with technology and finding the best pieces of what's working and not working," Nennig said. "Mooresville is one of the most advanced 1:1 school districts and the results are remarkable."

The six-year Mooresville plan included providing laptops to all teachers, as well as students from fourth to 12th grade, early release days, weekly leadership and implementation meetings and an infrastructure upgrade. Falls completed an infrastructure upgrade at the end of summer. This included adding wireless Internet in all buildings districtwide.

"They will tell you it's not the computer, it's the conversations around aligning the curriculum," that makes the model work, Nennig said.

Because of the need to align curriculum, the board is discussing implementation of an early release day on Wednesdays at all grade levels to allow for teachers to meet regularly and improve student learning by looking at student-specific data.

The plan is not perfect. A video shown on Monday portrayed a handful of teachers and students praising the laptop program. School Board member Faith Vanderhorst said she has talked to a concerned ninth-grade parent, adding they need to do a better job at educating parents on the laptop program.

There will be a survey sent out to parents of freshmen; however, Greco said parents should not wait to share their concerns.

She said parents who are having issues with the laptops should contact the High School Principal Corey Golla immediately so the district is made aware of problems and can work to mitigate them without any lag time.

In the meantime, the district will keep looking at what other school districts are doing to close learning gaps. Greco said many districts are piloting a laptop program in one grade but don't have a long-term plan as students move up grade levels.

She said this is why they piloted the program in ninth grade, so it can filter upward to 10th through 12th grades.

The district will also continue to utilize Mooresville as a valuable resource as it moves to the new age of digital learning.

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