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CCA Creek Squad makes computer-savvy request

School board informally approves 1:1 computers for middle school

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader

OXFORD– They came, they asked, and they were heard.
Three members of the Creek Squad, a group of technologically advanced eighth graders, addressed the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) superintendent and school board of directors in December. Thomas Buffard, Alex Goedken and Connor Lucas asked for the district to support a 1:1 computer to student ratio, which would make a computer available for every student. Currently the district has computer labs and a plethora of devices– tablets, laptops and desktop computers– but the Creek Squad members pointed out that sometimes, there aren’t enough to go around. The trio also highlighted how they use technology, daily, in the classrooms and at home as they work on their assignments utilizing Cloud-based, or Internet-accessed computer applications and programs.
At a work session Wednesday, Jan. 8, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford, the board tentatively approved a plan to go 1:1 at the middle school in the 2014-2015 school year, with likely expansion into the high school for the 2015-2016. In doing so, computers from both buildings would be redistributed to the elementary schools.
Superintendent Tim Kuehl said the December presentation led to discussions regarding training needs for the staff and potential costs associated with the increase in computers. Kuehl summarized for the board what he, middle school principal Brad Fox and district technology director Joe Francis came up with.
The district would initially need to acquire 500 Chromebooks, a small laptop-style computer device, which would be provided to students in grades six, seven and eight. These would cost an estimated $300 each, for a total of $150,000. A Chromebook has no hard drive and connects to applications via the Internet. While many applications are available for free, some would have to be purchased by the district.
There would be a software investment in monitoring programs, allowing the district to keep an eye on what students are doing on the machines, and taking action quickly if inappropriate websites are accessed or other improper usage were to occur. Currently, Francis is able to access Apple-based computers across the district, seeing in real time what is on the user’s screen. Francis said that if necessary, he is able to take control of a user’s computer, and even shut it down remotely. For example, the monitoring software would allow a teacher to be able to see what is on each student’s screen in the classroom. A filtering feature blocking students from inappropriate content would also be incorporated.
Kuehl said some districts only filter content during the school day, leaving the devices unfiltered at night.
“Our firm belief is, it’s our machine, it should be filtered all the time,” Kuehl said. Even with such filters in place, Francis noted some kids would always find a way around them.
The middle school was chosen as the first building for 1:1 based in part on the staff utilizing the Google programs longer than the other buildings, Francis said. The development of the Creek Squad four years ago at the middle school helped push the learning curve for the staff. “We think the middle school is the place to start,” Francis said.
“It’s not us telling them to do it, they’re asking us to do it,” Kuehl added. “You heard the kids and the staff, the middle school is there (ready to go).” Fox agreed.
Fox did state some minor concerns about making sure all small steps are properly taken to get the computers in place, create policies and understand insurance aspects.
“We’re not the pioneers. We’re not the leading edge. That stuff I can probably put on Twitter and in 10 minutes have a dozen policies.” Fox and Francis said they could benefit from the lessons learned by other districts that have gone to 1:1.
The district needs to be more proactive, Fox said. “The kids are doing these things, they’re using technology whether we provide it or not. If we provide it at least we have a little better way of educating them and teaching them how it works, how to collaborate, how to be responsible.” Fox told the board of a call he’d received from a parent looking to move into the district who asked when CCA would be 1:1.
“It’s an expectation,” Fox noted. “Every district we touch, except Iowa City, are 1:1.”
With a positive consensus from the board, Kuehl said he and the building administration would work to formulate policies and try out a variety of makes and models of computers, and probably return to the board in March for formal approval.