Montgomery County classrooms to get a major digital boost -- Gazette.Net







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Some Montgomery County students will find some new digital gadgets in their classrooms when they return next month.

The Montgomery school board approved a plan Tuesday that will place 40,000 electronic devices in all county public schools during the 2014-15 school year.

For the first year of the plan’s implementation, the laptops and tablets will go to third-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes and high school social studies classes.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said the technology will help students learn and teachers teach.

“It’s not about just giving someone a device,” he said in an interview. “It’s about integrating it into the ecology of the classroom.”

The plan divides county schools into three groups to introduce the devices at several stages this school year. The first group of about 65 schools will start the academic year with the devices. The second group will receive its devices later in the fall and a third group will boot up its gadgets around December or January, according to Sherwin Collette, the school system’s chief technology officer.

Schools will see more devices in future years.

The devices cost about $15 million, and Starr said it will be “essential” for the school system to continuing budgeting for such technology.

“We will have to devote resources to this on a continued basis,” Starr said.

While some are familiar with the devices that have been used in pilot programs at some schools, teachers have already started learning about the new laptops and tablets.

At a technology training session Friday, Alex Wong, a Spanish teacher at Argyle Middle School in Aspen Hill, said he has always encouraged his students to use technology and has seen them take pride in work they’ve done that has involved the digital realm.

“It makes them more invested,” he said.

Wong said he will be cognizant of students who are not as well exposed to the technology. He thinks the more cyber-savvy students will help those who aren’t.

English teacher Stacy Glodek said her students will able to use the new laptops to look up book reviews, poetry and paintings.

“Now they can edit each other’s works,” she said. “They can create stories together.”

But Glodek — who teaches sixth- and eighth-graders at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Germantown — also said the technology can be a distraction and students might not always do what they’re supposed to with it. Teachers will still face the same responsibility of needing to monitor students as they work, she said.

Teachers and school leaders will have several opportunities over the summer and in the fall to get familiar with the devices and how they can use them, said Kara Trenkamp, the school system’s director for instructional technology.

Collette said during the school board’s Tuesday meeting that the school system has introduced about 15,000 laptops into classrooms in the past few years, but the new plan will bring a set of technology that can be even more integrated into lessons.

Erick Lang, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the school system, told the board that, among other benefits, teachers can use the devices to work together and offer students immediate feedback on their work.

Starting this year, students also will be able to bring their own devices to school, Collette said. Schools will adhere to universal accepted-use guidelines, he said.

A big piece of the work, Collette said, will be offering supports to teachers who are at varying stages of familiarity with, and enthusiasm about, the devices.

School board President Philip Kauffman asked what kind of technical support would be necessary at schools to make the plan work and how it would affect media specialists.

The system has increased its professional development for media specialists, Lang said, adding that it would be an issue the system would need to be sensitive about. Most schools also have technical support, he said.

Collette said the system will be evaluating how different schools are using the technology and whether it affects student performance among other factors as part of a challenging plan rollout.

“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be simple, and it’s not going to be quick,” he said.