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Technology is key in TUSD classrooms
TUSD tech pic1
Students in Bret Sutterleys fifth grade class at Walnut Elementary School use Chromebooks for a variety of projects and assignments on a regular basis. - photo by Photo Contributed

When Walnut Elementary School teacher Bret Sutterley began teaching in 1979, it was rare to find a computer in a home, let alone a classroom. Flash forward to 2017, however, and the fifth grade instructor has learned to incorporate technology into nearly every lesson, whether it be treating students to a video chat with a scientist that is half way across the country, or using a computer to create a multimedia presentation.

“There’s this saying in education that there’s a ‘digital divide’ between us pre-computer teachers and working with students who have been born into technology,” said Sutterley. “As such, we have to constantly be training ourselves to use technology wisely and effectively and not waste it.”

Over the course of his career, Sutterley has gone from using a chalkboard as the main tool of his teaching to giving his students assignments on Chromebooks. State testing, which was once given to students on paper, has moved online in recent years. Technology is ever-changing, and as a teacher, it can be hard to not only keep up with evolving methods, but also to teach students how to use modern classroom equipment efficiently and safely – something that’s essentially required to be successful in today’s internet-ruled world.

“You can’t ignore technology; it’s here to stay, so we need to prepare our kids to communicate and express themselves. Their future lies with being able to be computer literate,” said Sutterley.

Computers, like the Chromebooks Turlock Unified School District has distributed throughout its sites, have proven to be incredibly useful in the classroom, he said. Students in Sutterley’s class use the Chromebooks for a variety of projects and assignments, like holding video conference calls with renowned professors from NASA and esteemed universities, analyzing world maps and each other’s writing, creating PowerPoint presentations and directing videos. And those few examples are just the tip of the iceberg, said Sutterley.

“A lot of how we teach is looking at how we can use the computer as a meaningful instruction tool,” he said. “The modern-day classroom has become way more interesting to teach in than the traditional classroom, when I had a chalkboard and books that were 10 years out of date.”

As part of TUSD’s Technology Plan for the 2017-2020 school years, the ratio of students to Chromebook devices will increase from 5:1 to 1:1, meaning there will be a device for every student in the District by 2020. For the 2017-2018 school year, TUSD has purchased roughly 1,580 new Chromebooks for students, which includes about 150 devices to replace the first set of Chromebooks the District purchased four years ago.

Sutterley’s class currently shares its Chromecart, which holds the school’s Chromebooks, with other students. The District’s ultimate goal of reaching a 1:1 student to device ratio, which will require the purchase of over 10,000 devices, is one that will benefit students for years to come, he said.

“Computers have made information instantly accessible, and let us immediately use the information that’s out there and be spot on with what’s happening in the world,” said Sutterley. “It’s a whole new ballgame, and it’s incredible what the kids can do. They’re incredibly savvy, and this allows them to take that savviness and put it into expressing themselves in an entirely different format.”

According to the TUSD spring BrightBytes survey, which provided feedback and data on tech use in the District, both teachers and students reported that technology use in class can enhance student learning. Director of Technology and Innovation for TUSD Jay Brem pointed out that the District’s goal is to ensure that all students graduate able to compete successfully in today’s society, which is everchanging.

“Increasing student access to technology is a key factor in helping us meet that goal,” said Brem.

Other highlights of the District’s Technology Plan include concentrating on building staff’s capacity and confidence when it comes to technology, and several key infrastructure improvements throughout TUSD school sites.

Over the next two years, a new District educational technology professional development initiative, Project GROW, will help teachers feel more at ease while using technology. Project GROW promotes technology professional development which includes Growth mindset, Responsible technology use, Opportunities to build capacity and confidence and Wed-based resources.

The initiative kicked off on Wednesday with a Google Boot Camp, which introduced teachers to key features of Google that can help them integrate more technology in their lesson plans. Over 30 TUSD teachers attended the half day workshop, said Brem, and as the school year begins, teachers will engage in self-guided learning to discover which specific skill sets they would like to include in their teaching.

Infrastructure improvements to be made throughout the District include an increase in internet service to two gigabytes per second, an upgrade to servers which will allow TUSD to be fully virtualized and enrollment in a cybersecurity awareness program for staff.

Despite technology’s clear benefits within the classroom and the District’s plan for making the most of modern-day learning, Sutterley hopes that his students never forget their first form of communication: themselves.

“When computers first came along in my classroom in the ‘80s, we thought they would replace teachers. But still today, you do have students needing that human interaction. It’s important that they get that. We value technology, but we value human interaction, too.”