published Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Signal Mountain schools piloting bring-your-own-device program

TABLETS IN SCHOOLS

Two foundations and a civic club are helping several Hamilton County schools pilot use of iPads in classrooms. The Benwood Foundation and the Public Education Foundation will pilot devices at six schools: Red Bank Elementary, Red Bank Middle, Red Bank High School, Calvin Donaldson Elementary, East Lake Academy and the Howard School. The Downtown Rotary Club is sponsoring a pilot of iPads at the district's five iZone schools, which are mostly black and poor schools grouped together under a school turnaround model because of chronic low performance.


"We have an opportunity to teach the kids good digital citizenship and the skills they will need for a career."

— Robin Copp, principal of Signal Mountain Middle/High School

The three public schools on Signal Mountain are the first in the district to participate in a pilot program for the Hamilton County Schools' bring-your-own-device policy.

"We thought we would let them pilot it and see what kind of problems we ran into," said Lee McDade, the school system's assistant superintendent. "As soon as we get the bugs worked out we'll roll it out systemwide."

McDade said he hopes for the program to start in all Hamilton County schools by the second semester next year.

Jonathan Welch, District 2 school board representative and chairman of the board's technology committee, said the Signal Mountain schools "were a good fit."

A lot of students wanted to bring their tablets to school already, he said, and now they officially can.

East Hamilton School is also "very interested" in implementing a bring-your-own device policy, but Signal Mountain schools were "more ready."

"We know we want to go toward a one-to-one situation, with each student to a device," Welch said about the district's overall classroom technology strategy. "This is a good place to work out the kinks."

Each school's principal will determine when students are allowed to use their devices, he noted.

Currently, the school district is adding secondary guest networks to help support more devices and increase security, Welch said.

"We believe we have enough wireless coverage," he said, adding that part of being a pilot program is that there is going to be some learning involved, such as how much bandwidth is necessary to support the increase in usage.

Signal Mountain Middle/High School Principal Robin Copp said the Mountain Education Fund was critical to bring the bring-your-own-device policy to Signal Mountain.

For the next three to five years, the foundation will contribute $100,000 toward training, implementation of the program in the three schools and classroom support, as well as $200,000 to lease devices for teachers.

Mike Taylor, executive director of the foundation, spent the past few years looking at similar projects nationwide, such as the successful BYOD program in Greeneville, Tenn., city schools.

Most students in the Signal Mountain schools have access to some kind of device, he said in explaining why the two elementary and midde/high schools were eager to pilot the program. "It is a very cost-effective way to implement classroom technology today."

Copp noted that the future jobs students will be competing for all involve some type of technology.

"We have an opportunity to teach the kids good digital citizenship and the skills they will need for a career," she said.

Many of her students were already bringing their devices to school and using them in the classroom before the program started this semester, Copp said. For example, students have used their cellphones as clickers to answer quizzes in class, as well as to send questions to the teacher that then pop up on the classroom's Promethean board.

For students who do not have their own device, the school library offers tablets that students can check out and take home just like books.

Most students have textbooks downloaded on their devices, which they also use primarily for note-taking and organization, she said. Teachers will begin incorporating more technology into their lesson plans this semester.

Nolan Elementary School Principal Shane Harwood said the school's fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed to bring their devices starting this month or in February.

"We'll send information home, including a contract and agreement outlining the responsibilities of the students and families," he said.

No cellphones will be allowed at the elementary level, said Thrasher Elementary principal Regina Brock.

The iPad 2 or later is the preferred device, though other tablets are acceptable, Harwood said.

Teachers will plan special activities for students involving devices, as well as teach them to use their tablet computers for research and in small-group cooperative activities.

"When new technologies are incorporated into everyday learning, students become more interested in the material, Brock said. "When students are more interested they are more likely to be successful, and achievement increases."

Taylor said the school district plans to use the training program developed on Signal Mountain as a model for training programs in other schools.

Signal Mountain's experience, he said, "will provide good information going forward as to how practical the initiative will be."

Contact staff writer Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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