Burnsville schools gauging impact of technology on learning

  • Article by: Herón Márquez Estrada
  • Star Tribune
  • March 5, 2013 - 3:13 PM

At Metcalf Junior High in Burnsville, students are using iPads to write, edit and record video book reviews for their peers in hopes of enticing more of them to crack a book.

At Sky Oaks Elementary, teachers are using iPad apps to perform almost real-time assessments of student performance on math assignments.

At Harriet Bishop, another Burnsville elementary school, the iPads are being used for individual learning time when kids read at their own level called the “Power Half Hour.”

It’s all part of the Burnsville school district’s (belated) push into using new technology to improve education.

Unlike many neighboring school districts — such as Farmington and Lakeville, which have jumped head-first into the iPad pool — Burnsville is intentionally taking things much more slowly.

Instead of buying millions of dollars in iPads and accessories, Burnsville has started with a few dozen teachers and classrooms, testing out the new equipment as part of a districtwide research project.

The results of the Improving Student Achievement Through Technology program will be on display Thursday afternoon at the Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville.

About 70 teachers will demonstrate their projects and the progress students have made this year through the use of technology.

“There’s a huge variety of projects,” said Paul Berge, a teacher at Sky Oaks who is performing the math assessments. “Technology has made it possible for us to teach in ways that it wasn’t possible before.”

With such a quick turnaround time to get results of quizzes and tests, Berge said, he had to modify lessons or curriculum to meet the needs of his kids faster than in years past.

“The impact has been big,” Berge said. “It feels like we are just getting started.”

A different approach

District officials point out that the projects go beyond simply using iPads or laptops. They also involve creative ways to use social media to engage the kids and their families.

The goal, said Rachel Gorton, the district’s curriculum and student programs coordinator, is to see which technology works and which is the most cost-effective.

“We’re getting a lot of feedback from teachers and principals,” Gorton said. “They’ve seen very good things happening with their students.”

Sandy Sweep, chairwoman of the Burnsville school board, said the district has been taking a slow and deliberate approach to introducing new technology.

As a result, some schools only have access to a limited number of iPads. At Harriet Bishop, for example, students are sharing 30 iPads, which means they are limited to about 30 minutes of use with the devices — hence the “Power Half Hour” reading program.

That is a different approach than Farmington and Lake­ville, districts that have committed millions of dollars to purchase thousands of iPads and other equipment this year and the next few years to distribute to all of their students.

Bob Nystrom, the president of the Burnsville Education Association, the teachers’ union, said he supports the district’s go-slow approach.

“In general, our only concern is sustainability,” he said, noting that by first testing the equipment the district can delay committing millions of dollars on things that might not work or might quickly become obsolete. “We would love to have all the latest and greatest technology in all of our classrooms, but we have to do it in a sustainable way.”

In Burnsville, about 80 teachers are using the new technology, and they eventually will teach colleagues and serve as resources at their school sites. Thursday’s presentations, in fact, are aimed at teachers to see what is possible, Gorton and others said.

“We wanted them to have colleagues to go to if they have any questions,” Gorton said. “Technology is changing our society. … I think you are going to see a lot more.”

Herón Márquez Estrada • 952-746-3281

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