PRIMGHAR—South O’Brien Elementary has restarted its classroom technology for this school year, including new devices for each student.
Kindergarten children and first graders at the primary school in Primghar have their own tablets for school lessons and homework. Students in grades 2-6 log in with laptops. That’s about 300 screens in total.
Headmaster Michael Morran said the one-to-one approach is becoming almost necessary in the modern classroom. He said the school is supported by Future Ready Iowa, a program that ultimately aims for 70 percent of Iowans to get an education after high school.
“This is an initiative that we are starting. Our first step with our kids with Future Ready is to make sure they know how to use their technology devices,” Morran said.
The South O’Brien School District also purchased new interactive whiteboards for each of the elementary school’s 17 classrooms. The school board approved the $68,900 purchase in February.
The boards combine the standard applications of a whiteboard with a touch screen. The digital connection also allows for more interaction and screen sharing with students without having to fiddle with a projector.
The school had smart boards before, but they were old and starting to fail.
“Everything from the graphics to the speed, it’s a great tool to use for teachers. It’s basically like having your laptop up there on the board,” Morran said.
The new technology has had an impact just a few weeks into the school year for second grade teacher Ashley Gloden.
She hopes her students will have a decent foundation by the end of the year. If young learners can become proficient with keyboards and web browsers and other essential parts of computing, Gloden says, they will be better prepared for advanced learning in the years to come.
“This is their first time using laptops, so it’s often ‘This is how you log in,’ ‘Here’s your password,’ ‘Here are the keys,'” Gloden said.
She said these rudimentary skills are helpful, as are the digital math and reading exercises. Her lesson plans for the year include special writing sessions to give her 6 and 7 year olds a better understanding of how to work with their laptops.
“You will get better. You’re getting better,” she said.
Gloden said the one-to-one devices are particularly useful in this area. In years past, there were only a few laptops in each room that students could share, meaning they could only be used in small group modules. Now teachers can orchestrate lessons that engage the whole class.
The new digital whiteboard is also a bonus, she said. Gloden looks forward to getting creative with the classroom screen throughout the year.
“It’s nice because I can have it through my computer, I can share the screen, the kids can share the screen. It’s much more touch-enabled, where kids can also show up and touch things. A lot of our programs, our phonics, our reading, our math, they all have things they can do more with.”
Gloden reiterated Morran’s focus on 21st century skills. She remembered the beginner’s computer courses she took as a teenager. She said it was beneficial for her students to start formal initiation earlier.
“Technology isn’t going away,” Gloden said. “Our entire curriculum now has online components. For us as teachers, a lot also happens online. Knowing how to use it is important.”
Tuesday’s lesson included a reading comprehension test. Unlike their first grade classes, Gloden’s students could not choose to have the computer read the questions to them.
The teacher said it was an age-appropriate challenge, something her students agreed with.
“It’s hard, but not too hard. I like that,” said second-grader Milan Harms.
Hudson Hofmeyer, the classmate sitting in front of Harms, turned around.
“Sometimes we have to do hard things and sometimes we have easy things, but that’s good,” Hofmeyer said.
Regardless of the difficulty, as Gloden noted, the technology is here to stay.
South O’Brien Elementary’s move to universal devices comes with nearby counties doing the same. George-Little Rock Elementary made the one-to-one jump last year and got 400 laptops for the students.
The same applies to the next generation of whiteboards. The Central Lyon school district received new ones for its 7-12 classrooms this year after the younger classes were refitted in 2021.
Morran called investing in new technology an easy decision for his school. He singled out South O’Brien’s director of technology, Heath Reichle, for helping guide the process. The principal said the tools will pay dividends by providing students with a diverse learning background earlier in their development.
“We are so focused on higher-order thinking, which is one of our priorities at South O’Brien Elementary. That’s something we were moving with before COVID somehow stopped us, but we’re really moving towards meeting all students, from our students who may have lower ability levels to our highest performing students in the classroom ‘ Moran said.
“We’re trying to meet the needs of the students, the different needs that they have.”