District 142 rolls out new technology, STEM/STEAM programming

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From the Forest Ridge School District Engage142 Newsletter

Apple-a-Day Initiative

Forest Ridge School District 142 has lots of new Apples. Not the shiny fruit that sits atop a teacher’s desk, but Apple iPads. District 142 devised a plan for a new 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative over the course of the past year. The 1:1 Learning Task Force was formed from the district’s Blueprint Strategic Plan, which was adopted in February 2016. The task force was comprised of administrators, principals, teachers, board members, and parents.

The task force members met four times starting in October 2016 and ending with a recommendation to the Board of Education in March 2017. Many things were considered and a vision was constructed from statistical research, stakeholder surveys, and area school visits where they looked for not only the benefits of technology in the classroom, but also at how to avoid any pitfalls.

First, the task force identified multiple reasons to explore a 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative:

  • Increases student achievement, motivation and engagement when appropriately integrated
  • Supports the development of the skills identified as the ‘4-C’s’ of 21st century learning— communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity
  • Extends learning outside of the school and facilitates one-to-world connections
  • Creates an equal playing field for all students and allows for personalized and differentiated learning

Second, the task force conducted a stakeholder survey, which included responses from parents, students and teachers. The results showed an overall positive response to moving forward with a 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative. Some highlights from the survey include:

  • 76% of surveyed parents reported that technology was critical to the learning experience.
  • 100% of surveyed teachers indicated that they supported a 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative.
  • 1% of surveyed teachers reported that they used technology on a daily basis while 82.9% of respondents indicated that limited availability of devices was the greatest hindrance to integrating technology.
  • 59% of students indicated that they are likely to participate more in classroom activities if technology is used.

Third, the task force then visited four school districts across Chicagoland that utilized iPads, MacBooks or Chromebooks in various grade levels and environments.

These visits were instrumental for the members of the task force to see how technology was being utilized within the classroom, the differences among devices, and how each school implemented the technology into their districts.

Finally, from the research, surveys, and site visits, the task force formed a recommendation to move forward with Apple iPads as a district-wide initiative. Students in fifth through eighth grades will receive 1:1 iPads, students in first through fourth grades will share iPad carts per grade level in each school, and kindergarten teachers will have dedicated iPads per classroom teacher.

Additionally, the district secured 12 days of Apple Professional Learning to be used throughout the school year and has hired an additional full-time technology integration specialist.

Upon adoption of the program, administration hit the ground running to prepare students and teachers for integration. Teachers have already had professional development training as well as received their iPads to prepare over the summer for implementation in the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. The district is excited to provide our students additional learning opportunities and resources through the 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative.

STEAM and STEM Education

An after-school Math/STEM Enrichment Program, simulated space missions, a new sixth-grade STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) course, and a Makerspace class are on the front burner for Forest Ridge School District 142.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific areas – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and hands-on approach. A STEAM curriculum adds the ‘A’ to include the arts, thus creating an even more comprehensive and integrated approach. District 142 students are participating in a variety of engaging experiences and activities that deepen content knowledge and application, and foster career curiosity and awareness.

For example, fifth-grade students at Kerkstra Elementary and Foster Elementary recently participated in a simulated space mission, ‘Rendezvous with a Comet,’ at the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana. During the mission, students took on the roles of astronauts, scientists, mission controllers, engineers, and researchers as they embarked on a daring rendezvous with a comet in the not-so-distant future. What seemed to be a routine exploration was sprinkled with surprises and emergencies that gave students first-hand insight into teamwork and problem solving.

Closer to home, a six-week, after-school STEM program provided accelerated mathematics students in first through fifth grades the opportunity to explore science and mathematics topics, utilize technology, and apply the engineering design process in a variety of hands-on activities.

Students in first and second grades built and tested two-wheeled systems to examine the efficiency of specific wheel materials; experimented with different wheel designs; used the engineering process to design, create, test, and improve race cars built from recycled materials; and designed and built a race track for a Recycled Racer Rally. In third, fourth and fifth grades, students were introduced to rockets, rovers, and stomp rocket launchers as they investigated and tested the impact of weight and other variables on the flight of rockets; designed and created rovers suited for specific planets and moons; and used the engineering process to plan, engineer and test rockets.

Furthermore, a sixth-grade STEAM class will be introduced at Jack Hille Middle School beginning this school year. This new, one-semester elective course will explore skills and processes involving Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics through a hands-on, discovery learning approach.

Students will integrate and apply concepts and skills learned in science, mathematics, technology and arts classes to systematically approach and design solutions for real world problems. Students will participate in activities such as designing and building bridges; exploring solar power by creating solar ovens and solar cars; building, programming, and operating robots; coding; and designing vertical farms. The vision is to expand this course sequence over the next two years, adding a seventh-grade STEAM course in the 2018-2019 school year and an eighth-grade course in 2019-2020.

In addition, a Makerspace philosophy will be added to the applied technology elective course at Jack Hille Middle School. In this class, students work in teams to solve problems, create models, and develop innovative skills through the use of Pitsco modules. The modules deliver interactive, multimedia-rich curriculum, which include video, text, graphics, animations, and hands-on learning projects. Module topics include computer graphics and animation, rocketry and space, audio broadcasting, fashion/textiles, and robotics.

Forest Ridge School District 142 is committed to expanding these initiatives and engaging all students in these meaningful programs!

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