Chippewa putting new technology to use

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published November 25, 2014


CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Chippewa Valley Schools has improved much of its technology since the turn of the decade, and the Board of Education received an update on Nov. 17 about how these new tools are being used in the classroom.

According to Scott Sederlund, the district’s assistant superintendent of business and operations, most of the technology purchases that Chippewa Valley has made over the last five years have only been possible because of support from district residents. In February 2010, voters approved a 25-year, $89 million bond extension for various capital improvements all over the district. This program included technology upgrades ranging from new computers to interactive white boards to remote data access.

“It’s all about improving the tools that we use to educate students in the classroom,” Sederlund explained. “In this day and age, the expectation is that we should be using the same technology that students will use out in the real world someday when they find a career. So these (technology improvements) are all about preparing them for the future.”

At the school board meeting, Sarah Monnier-White, instructional technology coordinator for Chippewa Valley Schools, outlined the ways that the district has been able to establish “21st century classrooms” at all of its schools. This goal was largely achieved, she said, by installing smart boards, overhead audio systems, data projectors, document cameras and handheld student response systems.

“What do we do with all this technology that we have?” Monnier-White asked. “Our goal is really to support the students and the teachers, and get the kids to where they need to be.”

She noted that the district has roughly 13,000 computers, about 8,000 of which are student computers equipped with a virtual desktop. This allows students to access all of their school programs, assignments and files from home, or from any other computer outside the classroom.

“The virtualized desktops also allow us to do a lot of management from here, instead of in the classroom … and it lets us take our older computers and repurpose them,” she told the board. “We can very easily take those older computers and put them into classrooms and virtualize them, so it becomes a pretty cost-effective measure.”

Monnier-White added that the district tries to make sure that students have access to this virtual desktop technology, whether or not they are able to get online at home.

“For our students who don’t have an internet connection, we worked with the Clinton-Macomb Public Library to install that virtual desktop,” she said. “So any of our students can go to the library, and for free, have access to those resources and that technology.”

The technology that Chippewa Valley offers in its classrooms is meant to help students apply what they’ve learned using 21st century tools. As Monnier-White put it, these tools “help engage our students, help them feel active in the classroom, help them get hands-on with (their lessons).”

Monnier-White believes that modern technology also helps students develop better professional and business skills. Fourth- and fifth-grade students are already learning how to make charts in Microsoft Excel, she said, and second-graders are already using Microsoft Word. Some older students have also given presentations using this technology at an annual technology conference held in Lansing, where they can interact and collaborate with other students, teachers and legislators.

In addition, she said, technology gives students the opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned in ways that they can relate to more easily. She cited an example of one Chippewa Valley class writing fictional debates between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in the form of Facebook posts, while another illustrated real-world scenarios showcasing the Bill of Rights via digital cartoons.

“These kids are taking the knowledge that they’re learning, and they’re expressing it in new ways using technology,” Monnier-White stated. “So not only are they having fun while they’re doing it, they really are showing what they know … by applying 21st century skills.”

Technology also allows students to connect with the world outside of their classroom, she noted. She mentioned programs such as Skype that have enabled them to interact with authors of books that they’ve read, chat with an active soldier on Veterans Day, watch a live interview with First Lady Michelle Obama and even witness a live knee replacement surgery as part of a human biology class.

Furthermore, Monnier-White said, modern technology gives teachers web tools to better support students and provide them with more individualized instruction. Educational online games that students play in class also give teachers immediate feedback, as do the handheld “smart” clickers that students use to answer questions that they ask.

In addition, she pointed out that teachers are able to utilize professional development services through the Macomb Intermediate School District and other resources. This allows them to keep up with current technology and transfer that knowledge on to their students.

According to Monnier-White, “This all leads to student success. All the work that we’ve done with technology and all the money that we’ve invested is there to support the teachers and the students.”

Ed Skiba, Chippewa Valley’s assistant superintendent of secondary education, echoed that sentiment. He told the board that by providing students with cutting-edge technology, the district is moving closer to achieving its larger educational goals.

“Research says that there’s two things every kid wants out of school,” Skiba explained. “It doesn’t matter how young or old they are, but for years, the research says two things: They want to feel successful at school, and they want to have fun. This technology helps with both of those issues. It’s nice because kids are still learning … but by learning through technology, they really get excited.”