Bellingham Public Schools will put two replacement levies on the ballot this February. These levies, our operations levy and our technology levy, are to help pay costs that the state does not fund. They would replace two voter-approved levies from 2012 that are set to expire. Our operations levy comprises about 25 percent of our budget.

The expiring technology levy has funded important updates to our infrastructure equipment and services, school computers, and staff providing technical support, training, and professional development. It also paid for a range of educational software, supported STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-related initiatives, improved technology access for students in special education and continues to improve classroom instructional technologies.

For the upcoming replacement tech levy, we are considering a 1:1 technology model, which would mean middle and high school students get a take-home device (for classroom use, too), and students in grades 3 to 5 would get classroom-based devices.

A group of teachers, students, parents, community partners and other staff have been working hard this fall to uncover everything that goes into planning a 1:1 technology model, including challenges and benefits. This Student Technology Think Tank engaged and researched in a variety of ways between case studies,  school visits, study sessions, survey data and industry speakers. They saw some amazing examples of how teachers, students and families can thrive when technology is integrated into classrooms with strong professional development, especially when it’s done with great thought and strong support.

The Think Tank’s 26 members gave unanimous support to the question, “Should Bellingham Public Schools move forward with a 1:1 initiative?”

As you read through the recommendation, what excites you about this opportunity? I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections.

I’d like to share a reflection from Molly Foote, a fifth grade teacher at Wade King Elementary School, who served on the Student Technology Think Tank.

I was concerned at first that computers would put walls up between students, but what we saw at Sammamish High School was the exact opposite. The computers were used as a powerful tool for collaboration. Students were engaging with each other while using shared resources on the computer. In my own classroom, my students are hungry for time on the computer. I have the laptops reserved for one hour each week, but this is not enough.  I would love the use of computers in the classroom to be seamless and not be seen as a special event. If students want to explore a topic, create visual models, share ideas, edit a movie, work on independent projects, or extend their learning, the technology needs to be available at their fingertips. Access to computers in the classroom will allow students to take more ownership of their learning, enhance inquiry-based projects, and provide a fundamental tool for the collaborative classroom. “

If we move forward with a 1:1 initiative, and it’s approved, some schools may pilot 1:1 within the next two years. The replacement technology levy would start in 2017 and lasts until 2020.

We have time to plan and to ensure that it’s done well.

Safety is a primary concern. So is making sure our staff and students (and families!) feel supported and understand the technology (both the hardware and software), and utilize these tools to the best of their ability.

Two aspects of the 1:1 initiative that resonate strongly with me: the student perspective and equity.

Students who served on the think tank are some of our most enthusiastic supporters. I hear from many other students who say they are ready and want and need more technology not only to get their classroom work and homework done more efficiently and collaboratively, but that having access to a device of their own will help prepare them better for the future.

Imagine a life with fewer textbooks! No more lost homework. Fewer worksheets floating with coffee stains or excuses about your dog getting hungry.

Then there’s the equity piece. Some students already have and use personal devices, but many do not. Providing our students with mobile technology reinforces our commitment to equity. We believe more access to technology will provide greater efficiency, organization, collaboration and possibility for our students, teachers and families.

Our strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise, guides our work. In it, we promise to develop students and graduates who are skilled users of technology, effective communicators and well-rounded community members engaged with the broader world. Having technology incorporated into our classrooms will help our students be ready for the widest range of educational and vocational options to support a diversity of life choices. We live in a digital and mobile world, and technology is an important aspect of many careers, jobs, and secondary education paths.

I look forward to your comments!

 

Comments (9)

  • I am extremely excited about this! Thanks for all of the work you have been doing to help our children be prepared for the future!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kevin.
      We’re excited, too! There’s a lot to prepare and learn, but I think we’re moving in the right direction for our students and our community.
      Thanks again, and stay tuned.

  • Excellent idea & plans! One question: what safeguards will be in place so that the laptops which can be taken home in the older grades, will it be lost or stolen or broken? Will they be followed by gps, or camera turned on from a central location, to find out where they are if they go missing, as happened in another district? (Read about this in the news a while ago.) How can this large investment be protected? Thanks for all your work! 🙂

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Thank you so much for your question. It’s a good one. We haven’t yet determined specific protocols or rules, but we plan to have both students and families adhere to some expectations when the devices are deployed. We don’t want to place an undue burden on families in the event of a broken or stolen device, but at the same time, we will want our students to act responsibly. For example, if a student loses or breaks their device several times, it doesn’t make sense to place the burden entirely on the district.

      The good news is that we have heard from other districts that very few devices actually get lost/stolen/broken. On your question about stolen computers, we are thinking about that, and do have a number of tools we use which can help track and recover them. Other districts and schools do advise having replacement devices handy if/when devices are lost/stolen/broken so school work can be seamless for students.

      Thanks for your enthusiasm and question!

  • do you think that the electronic device will be a laptop or an i-pad or mabie a microsoft surface or has that not ben deturmand yet

    • Hi Zack,
      Thanks for your questions about devices. No, we do not have an electronic device picked out at this time. The Student Technology Think Tank is recommending we choose a device that has digital inking capabilities, but no official decisions have been made about laptop vs. tablet. I have visited many schools that use iPads, Surface Pros and others; there are many pros and cons to each device. We look forward to digging into this deeper, and thanks again for commenting.

  • Has anyone looked at the failure of this type of technology cost in other districts that have tried this. I read in another district it failed because technology tools are obsolete in 2-3 years and the upkeep to keep up with technology is astronomically financially impossible for an entire school district. I am not in support of this at all. I would like to know the options for children that using screens affects their body and vision and is not a positive experience for learning. I think this is a horrible way to promote use of technology in children way too young. 3rd graders do not even know how to keyboard, nor should they. Visual motor skills and fine motor skills are not developed enough and touch screens promote inactive bodies with resultant pain, vision changes, etc. Please use money to reduce class sizes, not on technology that really doesn’t help learning. Oh, well-Physical therapists will have lots of business from Bellingham School District kids. What happened to human connections and hand writing and body language and eye contact?

    • Thank you for your comment, and thank you for addressing some of the biggest concerns related to a 1:1 model. Our Student Technology Think Tank looked at many case studies of why/how school districts succeed AND fail when they implement 1:1 initiatives. If the tech levy is approved, our processes and planning will be thoughtful, deliberate and inclusive (meaning we’ll get feedback from teachers and staff at all levels, students, families and technology experts). And I am in agreement with you on the concern related to having obsolete tools – the moment any of us buy a car, phone, TV or piece of technology, we do so with the fear that something better and more advanced is just around the corner. That said, we can’t get paralyzed and never buy a device for a student. Some futurists say that 65% of the jobs that today’s kindergartners will have do not yet exist. Again, it can be unnerving (and exciting!) but we still have to move forward to continue inspiring and teaching our students with the best tools available in the best facilities we can afford.

      I’d also like to point out that the think tank includes a recommendation to include a stylus or digital pen with the device. There’s powerful research pointing to better cognitive processes and thinking for students when they hand write notes as opposed to just typing, especially at the elementary level. We hear consistently from both teachers and students that they can’t get access to computer labs or laptop carts – and that’s at every level, including elementary.

      We may eventually have more devices in our classrooms, but they will absolutely not replace the importance of eye contact and interpersonal skills and relationships. I’m not sure if you are familiar with our strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise, but it calls out the importance of developing the whole child, a student who is healthy and active and someone who is respectful and compassionate, among many other important outcomes (like “skilled user of technology”). We also promise to prepare our students for the widest range of educational and vocational options to support a diversity of life choices. I believe that better access to technology will help enhance both teaching and learning in the classroom.

      With regards to reducing class sizes, I agree that it is an important strategy, and one that we continue to work on, with funding from our local levy and hopefully more funding from the state. It is important to note though that the technology levy dollars cannot be used for class size reductions. So if we were not to do a 1-1 initiative we could not use those dollars for class size reductions.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and questions.