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A computer for every student

With local districts striving to put a Chromebook or iPad in each student's hand, local teachers are looking at new ways to incorporate digital learning into the classroom experience.

Tisha Richmond, a South Medford High School culinary arts teacher who received a grant three years ago to purchase iPads for her class, has begun “gamifying” — a relatively new trend promoted by educators such as Michael Matera in his book “Explore Like a Pirate.”

“Gamification is basically taking the mechanics within games that draw us in and layering them over our curriculum to make learning come alive for students,” Richmond said.

Students in Richmond’s class can participate in a Master Chef-themed culinary game she created in which they earn experience or “xp” points through various baking tasks or missions. For example, students have made tutorial movies, menus and infographics on their iPads, Richmond said.

“I now have a paperless classroom,” she said. “All their recipes are given to them digitally and all documents are shared through Google Classroom which allows students to collaborate … and creates a more efficient workflow.”

Furthermore, Richmond said technology has changed her life as an educator, as she can now connect with teachers from around the world through various social media platforms.

“Being connected through technology expands your professional learning network, exponentially,” she said.

The Medford School District invested $616,140 in Chromebooks last spring, bringing its inventory to 6,738 Chromebooks that are interspersed among its more than 13,600 students.

Like Medford, the Eagle Point School District also has made a huge investment in technology, purchasing enough iPads for every student to use in class and take home, with their parents' permission, during the school year.

The district allows teachers to determine when and how often the iPads are used in class, said Ana Apgar, a middle school band director and sixth- through 12th-grade choir director.

“Some people would only use it from time to time while others made their entire course load available online,” Apgar said.

In her music classes, Apgar uses the app forScore to scan choir music, allowing students to download it onto their devices and saving her from having to make hundreds of copies.

She said some students also use SmartMusic, an interactive app that provides immediate feedback on rhythms and pitches, when they practice at home.

As part of its technology rollout, teachers taught students about digital citizenship and how to be safe on the Internet and report bullying. The district installed a bullying tip line app onto every device, allowing students and parents to anonymously report incidents to the building administrator and technology supervisor, said Tina Mondale, the district’s school improvement specialist.

Although the district did not have an increase in discipline referrals, teachers were confronted with students sending iMessages during class — the digital equivalent of passing notes, Mondale said.

“It’s not a new behavior,” she said. “It’s just become more digital.”

Messaging was an issue at the beginning of the year, but the number of incidents tapered off as the year went on, said Eagle Point’s Human Resources Director Allen Barber, adding that Parkrose School District in Portland experienced a similar trend when it went one-to-one.

The district also has filters in place to block explicit things and key words, including certain sexual terms and some word combinations related to weapons. Parents also received step-by-step instructions for setting additional restrictions on their child’s device, Mondale said.

“Parents can still be parents even though it’s a district device," she said.

Starting this fall, Eagle Point teachers will be able to access Apple’s new Classroom app, allowing them to monitor what’s happening on every device in their classroom and freeze a screen, redirect a student or send a student a message.

Medford’s Chromebooks will be equipped with software, called Insight, which has similar capabilities, district’s network services manager Jeff Bales said.

According to one description, Insight allows teachers “to educate, assist, monitor and communicate with an entire computer lab from one central computer.” Or, in this case, Chromebook.

At the beginning of the school year, teachers will instruct elementary students on how to use the new Chromebooks and how to use technology responsibly, said Medford district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd.

Chief Academic Officer Michelle Zundel said students also will have to sign an “acceptable use agreement.”

“And teachers will tell them what the expectations are, just like we do with playground expectations,” Zundel said.

Mike Jackson, a school resource officer at South Medford High School, also will visit every elementary school to talk to sixth-graders — and some fifth-graders — about Internet safety, cyber-bullying, protecting yourself from online predators and protecting your passwords and identity, Hurd said.

“Nothing replaces supervision,” said Jennifer Maulsby, a school improvement specialist who is tasked with supporting teachers as they learn to operate and teach with Chromebooks. “It’s just one more place where we teach them to be safe and kind.”

“You have to have the right tool for the right activity, and you have to have a caring adult to connect the learner to the right resources … in order for them to achieve and be successful,” she said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

The Medford School District began purchasing Chromebooks for use in the classroom in 2014. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell illustration