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Advancing technology, opening doors in NYM

Though technology could never replace a good teacher, it has provided a backbone of support and a myriad of information used to excel their instruction.

Dynamic content and information is available, and New York Mills teachers are trying to bring it into their classrooms.

On Nov. 8, the NY Mills School District will be asking residents to vote on a levy that would add $75 per student to the school's budget for the sole use of technology.

Keeping up with the ever-changing technology can be a challenge for schools. But NY Mills School officials, students and staff feel like the challenge is well worth the effort.

NY Mills School Computer Technician Lapene Maijala said having the newest thing isn't really an option for school districts, but giving students an up-to-date demonstration of what is out there is necessary for their futures.

In an interview with senior, junior, and sophomore class representatives, it was obvious that this generation is used to having the world at their fingertips. Students turn to their phone or computer for information first and foremost.

Even to look up their vocabulary words, the cell phone is their ultimate tool. And though cell phones are not usually allowed in class, the class representatives were thankful for the exceptions to the rule.

For a generation, that technology has been ingrained in almost every aspect of their lives. The students were especially enthusiastic about the teachers who have integrated technology into their daily routines.

Junior Class President Latham Hetland remembers the old computers in grade school computer labs "that didn't really do much." That is not the case anymore. Now the representatives figured they were using some sort of technology in their school day about 50 percent of the time.

Now there's WiFi access in most of the high school, which opens up the door for bringing a wide variety of information right into the teachers' curricula and activities.

Thanks to the internet in the classrooms, updated history lessons are always available. Classes use the web to look up the most recent situations in the world.

Junior Class Vice President Lexie Rankka said, with the internet, they have gotten updated sec-tions of textbooks, without buying a whole new book.

For example, even though the calculus books are only a few years old, the directions for how to use scientific calculators no longer apply because new machines are now in the students' hands.

The students had a variety of technology memories, from the daily high school version of CNN that is streamed to classrooms, to the robots that they learned to make in physics class.

Interacting with technology

When it comes to technology, it's not just about bringing students information anymore; the tech-nology has become a way for students and teachers to interact with the information that's available.

Video technology has also allowed students to participate in distant high school and college classes.

One student explained how she participated in a speech class based out of Fergus Falls by video-taping herself giving a speech, then emailing it to her teacher.

Senior Class Vice President Nick LeTourneau said, "This morning we came into class and the teacher was gone because he had an accident. The substitute teacher showed us a video that the teacher taped of himself giving the explanation lecture."

The students felt like this was much more helpful in the classroom than if someone else tried to teach a subject they weren't as informed on.

In fact, if there was a system of online lecture reviews set up for all classes, many of the students said they would take advantage of this.

"If every lecture was taped, I would definitely use that," LeTourneau said.

One teacher used a website called in the classroom to increase student partici-pation by asking for their reactions to different scenarios. Students use their cell phones to text a reply. All the data is transferred into easily accessible charts that teachers can project for further discussion.

Some technology makes the teachers adjust their own instruction to the students' needs. Instant response systems provide immediate feedback when students use the individual handheld devices to answer questions on a screen.

There is also technology to help parents stay informed with their child's school progress. An on-line parent access program supplies current GPA status and grades. It also allows parents to stream-line lesson plans.

Of course, there is always a need for more technology. LeTourneau said the students would like to see more technology in the shop classes, like auto mechanics.

"There is a lot of stuff that can be done on computers that is still done on manual machines," he said.

From a technology point of view

The good news is "we have a rock solid wire network foundation already in place. Now we just need to work on the wireless aspect," Maijala said.

Maijala mentioned that the age of the current system is outdated -- both the software and the hardware need upgrading.

"We are running Windows XP, which is currently two operating systems out of date. And to just upgrade the software could be extremely taxing for the hardware side," he said.

Because of the outdated computers, a variety of issues have popped up. Maijala said there have been some compatibility issues among current software and newer websites.

"We are reaching a point with more failure on the hardware side," he said.

The motorized parts in the computers, like fans, have been wearing out.

"Right now we are making do and piecing computers together, or buying refurbished parts off of eBay," Maijala said.

The school is trying to make do with what it has by keeping the system running as efficiently as possible. But the sticky point is "getting students to use what they are going to see when they leave this school," Maijala said.

He pointed out that the ultimate goal of a school is to prepare the kids so they can transition from NY Mills into college or the business world.