Dept. of Education salutes PAHS for tech use

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area School District was recently recognized by the state Department of Education (PDE) for its use of technology from the Classrooms For the Future (CFF) grant throughout the district.

PAHS Principal David London said this is the first full year of the “One-to-One” program at the high school, where every student in grades nine through 12 has his or her own laptop.

London said the district was recognized by the state education department as one of five districts in the state as a CFF success story.

He said a company called CaseNEX, which supports educators through an online, case-based approach, sent a documentary team to record some of the positive things in the Punxsy district with the computers, and that the district will be part of an education department highlight video summarizing the CFF program, and what it did to advance use of technology in education in Pennsylvania.

“That’s quite an honor to be recognized in that manner,” London said.

Melissa Fedigan, the district’s technology coach, said the district had to choose a group of teachers for PDE’s documentary.

“It was hard to pick that group of teachers because a lot of our teachers are doing really great things technologically,” she said. “They captured their lessons, and they also collected all of the materials that went along with those lessons — anything that the teacher had contributed to that lesson they videotaped.”

Those lessons will be placed on PDE’s Standard Alliance System portal.

“We’re trying to align the Pennsylvania curriculum statewide with the state standards that we’ve had forever,” Fedigan said. “With this tool, teachers can go into the portal and look at model examples of what good teachers are doing, and use them or modify them.”

This past year, the Punxsutawney Area School Board approved making the position of technology coach full-time, and not just a temporary position, as it had been when paid for by grant funding.

Fedigan works district-wide with teachers to develop technology-rich lessons, and on how to use technology to teach students, spending a lot of her time at the elementary level in developing lesson plans. She also held a “tech camp” this summer for teachers, where she taught them to develop a project that was 21st Century learning- and technology-based.

“Implement that project with kids in the regular school year, and when our teachers implement those projects, I go in and observe them and give them some feedback as to how the technology went and how well they used the 21st Century learning skills and things like that,” London said.

He said all teachers have been very cooperative and are utilizing it to some degree, which is what they see when they do the computer checks.

While students should use their school-issued laptops for education and learn to use them for things other than education, there are random computer checks.

“No matter what you do with kids, there’s the potential for something bad to happen,” London said. “Being that they are school computers, and we let the kids know that we’re going to check them, we’re able to keep an eye on the things that they are doing, and provide them some education in being personally responsible with such an expensive piece of equipment and a communication device.

“When you do something on a computer, to a certain degree, it’s there forever for everyone to see, and we’re really promoting that,” he said.

The district is also studying whether students are using the laptops for school work — in all of their classes, half of the classes, rarely or never.

“We’re checking ourselves and seeing which classes require computer use, and there is a certain age level of students who’re using it for class,” London said.

In general, the students are using their laptops for educational purposes.

“We have an Internet filter here at school, but there isn’t one at home,” London said. “We’re promoting personal responsibility. All the parents have to understand: If a kid wants to do something bad enough, they’re going to do it. You have to provide your kids guidance and what’s the right thing and the wrong thing to do, no matter what it is, whether it’s a computer or driving a car.”

This year, the school has encouraged students and parents to purchase the insurance for the laptops.

“Hopefully, a lot of people went ahead and purchased the insurance. It’s relatively inexpensive and covers a lot of damages,” London said, adding that these were all issues expected with the program.

“It comes down to you having to decide whether the educational benefits outweigh the questions and the drawbacks,” he said. “So far, I feel that they do. Kids learn from their experiences, and you have to provide them learning experiences which require them to think critically. Critical thinking is so important, and sometimes I think that is overlooked in schools. Kids have to be able to think about things and figure things out, because that’s what life is all about.”