At Bailey Middle Schools book fair last week, students and parents walked the halls brandishing tablets and smartphones, scanning QR codes on the walls for a bring your own technology scavenger hunt.
The Cornelius school is among 21 piloting the BYOT approach for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, with more expected to jump in after the first of the year. Many nearby districts and private schools are also giving students permission to use their own devices.
Using digital textbooks, making educational videos, creating blogs and communicating online are fast becoming part of the school routine. BYOT steps up the pace of student access.
Its the future. Its either be on board or be left behind, said Melanie Manning, who did the scavenger hunt with her daughters.
At Bailey, BYOT means students used the Sock Puppets app to create a video describing the structure of a cell.
At Hawk Ridge Elementary in the Ballantyne area, a teacher introduced a historical novel by asking students to research one-room schoolhouses on their digital devices. For many parents, BYOT means this years Christmas list is coming with an educational twist.
Im getting the emails and the questions: Christmas is coming up. What do you think and what would you suggest? says Hawk Ridge Principal Troy Moore. His response: A tablet is better than a phone or iPod because the larger screen is more useful in class.
Haves and have-nots
Stephanie Keel, a Bailey mom and a technology executive with Bank of America, says her initial reaction to BYOT was wariness.
I was worried it would make a group of haves and have-nots, she said.
Thats a common concern, according to parents and educators. The answer, they say, is that schools already have laptops, classroom desktops and often iPads. When some students bring their own devices, the school technology is freed up for others.
It kind of ends up with every kid having something, without you having to supply it all, said Keel, who says she and 11-year-old daughter Emory are both fans now.
Leia Forgay, a biology teacher at West Mecklenburg High, says schools have always had to deal with the potential for clashes over symbols of affluence, whether thats clothes and shoes or smartphones and tablets. Its up to the adults to set a tone that diminishes such rivalry, she said.
And while West Meck is considered a high-poverty school, there arent many technology have-nots, she said. These kids, theyve got it all in their backpack.
Students as leaders
Forgay says she learned that West Mecks Wi-Fi had gone live when she caught a student using his iPod in class. She thought he was goofing off, but he was looking up pictures of mitosis.
Forgay says shes learning that students can often take the lead in constructive uses of technology. They love to teach others, including me, she said.
At Bailey, the scavenger hunt required participants to log onto the CMS Wi-Fi and scan QR codes, which took them to such sites as the districts BYOT Q&A and the Gaggle accounts students use for email, blogging and document sharing. It wasnt uncommon to see students zipping ahead while parents struggled to make the Wi-Fi connection.
CMS leaders had hoped to launch BYOT districtwide in August. They slowed down when they realized how complicated it would be.
The pilot schools drew up technology plans and user agreements. They keep track of who has family permission to bring a device and whats in a classroom on any given day.
At Hawk Ridge, for instance, one-third of fourth-graders brought devices the first day it was allowed. The sign-in list looks like a Best Buy inventory: Six iPods, 12 iPod Touches, 19 iPads, five other tablets, two smartphones, two Kindles, five Kindle Fires, and three Nooks.
The CMS Wi-Fi system limits the websites users can access. Schools are using Gaggle to provide student email accounts and virtual lockers for storing documents that are protected from wider scrutiny. There are filters to ensure students dont stash anything inappropriate.
For instance, Chasidy Parker, Bailey Middles technology facilitator, says a student came to her distressed because an assignment he was working on had disappeared. She found it in her file for review. He had inadvertently added a second T to but and triggered the filter. She corrected the typo, and he got his work back.
Old meets new
The blend of old and new is striking in Cindy Pusaniks fifth-grade class at Hawk Ridge. Had she introduced The Teachers Funeral, a novel set in a one-room schoolhouse of the 1900s, earlier in the year, shed have presented the background material using the classroom smart board.
With BYOT, she asked the students to look it up and present to each other.
Rather than me giving it to them, theyre going and finding their own information, which lets them take ownership of their learning, Pusanik explained.
Across the room, students were learning to write with fountain pens and ink. Pusanik had found a website with calligraphy samples and created a QR code, which students scanned on a classroom iPad before getting to work.
As more schools open their doors to student technology, the pilot schools will be tapped to share what theyve learned.
Moore, the Hawk Ridge principal, says it will be helpful for the newer schools to have concrete examples of BYOT in action. Its very important to start preparing the parents now, he said.
Several people involved in the pilot noted that schools are just starting to catch up with technology the kids are using.
If were not educating them on how to use it properly, said Moore, then shame on us.
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