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Tech talks continue in New York Mills

New York Mills School's technology coordinator, Lapene Maijala, gave an overview of the technology plan at the school board workshop last week. A committee has been discussing technology priorities since the $50,000 per year referendum passed in November.

Maijala said the first priority will be updating the school's six computer labs, with a total of 150 refurbished computers, at an estimated $40,000.

The old computers could be revamped to replace classroom computers. Another possibility would be to bring laptops into the classroom, for an estimated $60,000-$70,000. Maijala said the committee decided laptops were a more productive tool when compared to iPads and other tablets, as they have more options like web cameras built in.

These kinds of options are important, said Maijala, when using new teaching techniques like the 'flip classroom' - where homework is done in class and students listen to lectures at home. Utilizing video presentations, teachers can prepare and post lectures online, which students watch in preparation for class.

The final details of 'flip classroom' technology, and how it could be incorporated in NY Mills School, are still under discussion. However, the possibility has come up during technology committee meetings.

Board president Rachel Grieger said flip classrooms would allow parents to watch lectures, too, which may be helpful in subjects such as math.

Board member John Peeters asked if a lack of technology at home would deter some kids from participating in online lectures. Maijala said teachers would work with kids, offering different versions of the presentation so they wouldn't miss out. A teacher could burn the presentation onto a DVD, for example, which would not necessitate a home computer.

Some teachers are already using technology to strengthen their classrooms. Amy Braukmann, a high school English teacher, sends her students text messages through an online program. She sends reminders for homework due dates, as well as instructions to help students be prepared for the next day's project.

In an interview last week, Braukmann said, "Not only does background knowledge help in the overall understanding of a new concept, but it also allows students to feel confident enough to contribute to classroom discussion."

Braukmann said flip classrooms have a lot of potential: "Since the role of the teacher shifts to more of a learning coach, more meaningful interactions can take place."

According to the technology committee, one obstacle of technology is that some teachers are unwilling to utilize it, even when it's available.

Board member Jill Carlson explained the idea of a 'super user,' an idea she got from her work at Perham Health. 'Super users' are technology 'experts' that would be available throughout the school - one in each grade in the elementary and one in each hallway in the high school. Super users are the first line of technology support for teachers.

These super users would be more accessible than a technology coordinator, and would hopefully make all teachers more comfortable with technology.