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SHERIDAN — Classrooms don’t look like they used to. Baby boomers who enter an elementary school class today would likely feel like they have entered the world of the Jetsons.
Local school districts, though, are determined to ensure students today have the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.
Sheridan County School District 1 has been working on many projects within technology, starting with what makes it possible. Officials in the district updated every schools’ networking system to wireless access points within most classrooms. They have also purchased additional bandwidth to double the internet speed for all K-12 classrooms.
In terms of the technology students use this year, all ninth-grade students will be making the switch from iPads and tablets to a new Google Chromebook, while grades six through eight will have one-to-one iPads.
Students in grades 10-12 will have iPads in Big Horn and InFocus tablets at Tongue River.
The new elementary school in Tongue River will also drastically change how technology can be used. Each classroom will be equipped with a MondoPad (touch screen TV), MacBook Airs for each teacher and surround sound audio system that allows connection for a neckless microphone, MondoPad and additional audio inputs such as an iPad for best audio quality.
“Technology changes based on the age of students and we try to pick the technology that best fits the student’s learning,” SCSD1 technology director and integration specialist Jesse Hinkhouse said. “High school students needed a keyboard for applications and real world experiences so we moved from the iPad to a Chromebook. Technology cannot be just a stand alone subject but rather embed it into each content area.
“We do teach technology classes, but our goal within these classes is to give students the skills to move further within other academic areas,” Hinkhouse added.
Sara McGinnis, SCSD1 curriculum director, also noted that the district is looking at more online resources for teachers and students as opposed to traditional textbooks.
Online textbooks are easier for students to access from home when doing homework,” McGinnis said. “Online textbooks are also more cost effective. When new editions of a resource are released, we don’t have to buy a new classroom set of textbooks, instead most online resources update to the new edition with little to no additional cost.”
Sheridan County School District 2 has also upped its game for the coming school year. Mitch Craft, assistant superintendent for curriculum and assessment, said the district has also improved its technological infrastructure.
The district is entering its third year with one-to-one technology in grades kindergarten through eight.
Like SCSD1, students have access to iPads or Chromebooks. They use them to interact with educational apps, type homework assignments and even read texts.
In high school, the technology available to students depends on the class students take. For example, English and social studies classes primarily used Chromebooks, while drafting and yearbook classes utilize Apple laptops or desktops.
Those in business classes primarily use PC laptops and other desktop computers.
So what’s new this year?
“What’s new isn’t so much about the hardware, but what we’re doing with it,” Craft said.
While elementary students have used iPads and Chromebooks to access educational apps in the past, this year they’ll use apps to learn computer coding.
“We know this will be an essential skill down the road,” Craft said, adding that SCSD2 students will learn the tasks in a game-based environment.
As the students move on to higher grade levels within the district, more and more coding will be included in classes. For example, at Sheridan Junior High School, one class will allow students to build their own app and another will teach kids additional computer coding.
Craft noted that some of the new technology focused learning opportunities have been made possible through a grant from Whitney Benefits.
It’s not just the public schools taking on technology. Holy Name Catholic School recently received a $25,000 grant from Wyoming Catholic Ministries Foundation.
Students in grades three and above will receive Chromebooks, while the younger grades will get tablets. They’ll be able to check out the devices and bring them home in the evenings and on weekends.
By ensuring students have their own computers, Holy Name principal Mary Drake said, all grades would be able to do more of their projects digitally. That will mean more PowerPoint presentations, typed — not handwritten — essays and even short videos or newscasts.
“Our world is changing and so our school needs to change, too,” Drake said in a May interview with The Press.
The principal stressed that preparing students to be competitive on the global stage requires that students get their hands on technology more often in the classroom.
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