Freeport Area plans smartphone test run in 10th grade
By Jodi Weigand
Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 1:16 a.m.
A pilot program allowing 10th-grade American cultures students to use their smartphone or tablet in class will allow the Freeport Area School District to determine whether a districtwide policy allowing the devices is warranted or even feasible.
“I think if we didn't discuss the merits of it, we'd be doing a disservice to our students,” said Aimee Engleka, the district's instruction technology coordinator. “These are tools they're going to be using in the 21st century, and we need to help them learn how to best use these tools.”
The students will learn how to use their devices for more than texting and checking Facebook, officials said.
Currently, the district does not permit students to use personal electronic devices in class.
Last month, the district approved development of a Bring Your Own Device policy for a pilot program in the social studies department.
The board is set to vote on the policy on Nov. 13. If approved, the pilot program could begin immediately.
A survey of students in the American cultures class found that 91 percent of them have a device they can bring.
The handful of students who don't will use district-provided laptops.
During a presentation on Wednesday, Engleka and 10th-grade American cultures teacher Daniel Stell explained how students would use their devices in class.
The presentation included the school board members participating in a simulated lesson using district-owned tablets.
The technology allows teachers to ask students questions, including written response, multiple choice and yes-or-no, and have their answers instantaneously show up on a projector screen.
“Instead of asking a question and the same students raising their hand to answer, now every student is engaged, and it can lead to more learning,” Stell said.
It allows the teachers to easily determine whether a student is paying attention and gauge whether they're grasping the material.
Among the school board's concerns were monitoring students' activity, whether the district would be liable for damage or theft of students' devices and whether using such technology would truly enhance the curriculum.
Board members were assured that students would only be permitted to log onto the Internet using the district's secure, filtered, wireless Internet service.
Their activity would be monitored, just as if they were using a district-owned computer.
The district's network has the ability to detect other wireless access points and prohibit access, officials said.
It would be the teachers' responsibility to make sure the students are only using the district's network and not a 3G or 4G capability built into the device.
“That's why we're starting with one teacher to see if we can control it,” Engleka said. “And if it's an issue, then we'll revisit this.”
Anyone who accesses prohibited content would be subject to disciplinary action.
Students would be responsible for their devices just like any other property they bring to school.
Engleka said administrators will review the program in January and again at the end of the school year to determine its effectiveness.
“My hope would be that at the end of the year, we have a bank of lessons that we can say, ‘these have really improved with the implementation of this policy,' ” Engleka said.
They're also going to gather feedback from students, parents and those in the social studies department, she said.
“That would be the kind of criteria that I would expect to see,” said board member Christine Davies.
District expects savings
The school board anticipates it could save at least $250,000 by buying liability and workers' compensation insurance for the $30 million middle school building project through the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Owner Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP).
The package will cost about $652,000.
Purchasing the insurance on its own would save the district money because it won't have to pay individual contractors to obtain their own insurance.
Securing the insurance before soliciting bids for the project means the district gets a discount on the rate.
The OCIP program offers $52 million in third-party liability and $50 million in coverage for 10 years for any problems with the building caused by contractor negligence.
The district used OCIP insurance when it renovated South Buffalo Elementary school about seven years ago. In that case, the district compared the contractor's insurance cost quotes to what OCIP was offering.
The OCIP quote came in $289,000 lower on the $12 million project.
The school board will vote on the insurance plan on Wednesday.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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