iPads, iPods, Promethean boards and three-dimensional printers. What used to be considered space-age technology is now readily available in the public sphere, and the Hermiston School District wants to make sure students are exposed to such devices as much as possible.

Thanks to a $69.9 million facilities bond initiated in 2008, the Hermiston School District was able to replace a number of area schools and make minor facilities improvements to various buildings within the district. Included within the bond was also funding to improve the district’s access to technology.

Technology Director Robert Silva joined the Hermiston School District after the bond was passed in 2008, and he and his technology team have since worked to update the technology already present within the district as well as get more devices into the schools.

“At the time, I didn’t have any clue as to the real scope of the impact of the amount of technology that the bond projects would have,” he said.

Silva said he and his team have worked to build a foundation for the new technology, including iPods, iPads and Promethean boards — a computerized, interactive white board, which has flooded the district throughout the past couple of years. He said with the help of an in-district grant in 2011, the district was also able to purchase classroom iPods for every student in third, fourth and fifth grades and some iPads for other grade levels. Teachers have also been successful at qualifying for their own technology grants to support the purchase of additional devices.

The district now has more than 2,000 devices across the eight schools.

Silva said one of the biggest challenges with adding a whole bunch of new technology in classrooms is the fact the education system, in general, is one of the hardest institutions to change. He said when things are constantly changing, students struggle to master the material and gain in proficiency.

Silva said he feels, however, the Hermiston School District has done a pretty good job of applying the changes gradually so students can keep up.

He said the district has focused on obtaining three types of technology since 2008. The first is infrastructure technology, which includes the district network, phone system, etc. The second is educational technology in the classroom, which includes iPads, iPods, projectors and Promethean boards. The third is instructional technology, which consists of the applications to help enhance or supplement the instruction.

“That (instructional technology) is the most critical part to get right in education,” Silva said.

The technology staff has provided countless hours of professional development and support to the district teachers and classified staff to get them ready for the technology. Despite some fears early on, instructional technology coach Michelle Dunkel said many of the teachers have jumped right in to incorporate the devices, such as iPads and iPods, in the classroom.

Third-grade teacher Linda White currently uses the devices in her classroom in math, reading and writing. One of the projects her reading students recently completed was a video book report. Each student wrote their report and then recorded themselves reading it and paired the sound clips with photos to compile a video. All of the compilation work was done using the iMovie application of each student’s class iPod.

“The use of iPods within my classroom is integrated and embedded into the curriculum I teach, the instructional strategies I use and, most importantly, into the learning my students experience,” she said. “They do not stand alone in my classroom.”

White said the devices are tools to help enrich and expand the instruction that takes place in her classroom.

”I feel they have made a huge, positive impact on my students’ learning,” she said.

Dunkel said the iPods and iPads are very individualized. She said normally, it is hard to meet every student’s needs all at once, but that it is possible with the devices. She said for students who operate at a higher level of learning, they can move on to harder lessons and curriculum simply within the applications on the device. For students who need additional help, the lessons can be adjusted.

She said the technology also allows the teacher to track student progress instantaneously. As the student progresses through the lesson, the teacher can go into the application and physically see and track their current progress.

Silva said the devices don’t replace the teacher but seem to seamlessly integrate into the teacher’s instructional style.

“When you go into the classroom, you don’t immediately see the technology,” he said. “The teacher is still there teaching.”

Dunkel said the technology also seems to give a voice to struggling students, who never had the courage to speak up before in class. She said students are also engaged 100 percent while operating the devices.

“Engagement was through the roof,” instructional technology coach Stefani Wyant said of her own class last year. “My test scores went way up.”

Dunkel said the students also seem to really take pride in their devices because they don’t want their privileges revoked if they are caught doing something they shouldn’t. She said regardless of grade level, students are very careful with the devices.

Silva said, so far, they have concentrated their technological improvements heavily at the elementary level and are slowly working to implement new technology at the middle school and high school levels. This year, both middle schools in the district welcomed a new technology class that focuses mostly on typing and word processing applications with the use of a classroom set of iPads.

At the high school level, students have access to a robotics class and club, where they build and manipulate Lego- and metal-based robots using applications and programming through iPods, cell phones and more under the instruction of teacher Curt Berger.

The CAD class at the high school, also taught by Berger, features a three-dimensional printer, which allows students to design a three-dimensional object on the computer and then print it out using the printer. The printer uses plastic and metal to build the object from the ground up. Berger said he also is looking forward to receiving a laser engraver where students will be able to use the device to engrave images onto objects. He said they can then possibly sell those objects to raise money for future equipment and projects.

Berger said he enjoys working in a district where technology is a large priority.

“Hermiston is very much at the top of the technology scale,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to have been in Hermiston all these years.”

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