Schuylkill Valley Area School District hosted its 5th annual Innovation and Technology Day on April 3.
“The purpose of today’s event is to share with our community, school board members, other schools how we’re utilizing technology in different ways here at Schuylkill Valley,” said Michael Billman, Director of Instructional and Information Technology at Schuylkill Valley School District. “We have our teachers and students participating and showcasing how we use technology.”
The all-day event included visits to classrooms at all three school buildings, elementary, middle and high school. Billman said one of the benefits of the event is the opportunity to connect and partner with the community.
“One of the things we strive to do here at Schuylkill Valley is to work with others because we can’t do it alone,” said Billman.
Schuylkill Valley School Board Director Dane Miller said what he really took away from the event was seeing how everything is interconnected, seeing how multiple disciplines come together in projects. He also liked seeing the student collaboration.
“As a Board member, it’s great. You didn’t use to see that kind of interaction between the disciplines and all the kids,” said Miller.
As a former principal, Miller said he used to see students weighed down by 40-pound bookbags but now everything is all on one Chromebook. “That is a huge difference. Kids are not constantly stopping at their locker to get more books out. Everything’s at their fingertips.”
One of the benefits he sees is that even when students are out of school for extended periods of time, they still have access to their school work and their teachers. “This allows them to stay in contact with their (teacher) and their peers and they’re not falling behind.”
“It’s really become a lot easier, workload wise,” said Schuylkill Valley senior Steven Arentz. “If we have days off, you’re able to do things outside of school that you wouldn’t normally be able to do because all of your stuff is with you at all times.”
Over the past four years, he has seen classes go from using paper and pencil to using a computer.
“As freshmen, we were the guinea pigs for the Chromebooks, we didn’t really know how it was going to be. We’ve gone from having four notebooks in our backpacks at all times to just having the Chromebook and sometimes a notebook.”
He explained that Google Drive, a cloud-based system, allows students to organize notes, projects and assignments into online folders and even receive online notifications from teachers. “It’s basically like having all of your locker all at once organized into notebooks and everything. It’s real easy.”
Arentz said it’s easier for students to connect with the teacher online when they have questions and it’s easier to connect with other students to collaborate on projects.
Technology improvements have also made using technology in the classroom easier for teachers.
“I’ve noticed 10 years ago my technology sometimes worked, five years ago it usually worked and now it almost always works and does what it’s supposed to,” said Schuylkill Valley High School physics and math teacher Mark Horrell. “I’ve seen that improvement in the ability to actually rely on it for a classroom lesson. You use to always have to have plan B and sometimes plan C but now you only have to have plan A, and B just in case.”
Todd Witman, Schuylkill Valley 5-12 technology integration coach, hopes the Technology Showcase attendees see how technology is used in the classroom at all levels and in multiple disciplines.
“There’s a lot of technology usage and in a lot of different ways,” said Witman.
“We can incorporate technology to facilitate student learning that 15, 20 years ago weren’t available,” said Schuylkill Valley High School math and computer science teacher Bryan Binkley. “Back in the 1980s, it was pencil and paper and books.”
His algebra 2 students created an MTV road trip video project to explain linear systems.
“They had a blast with it while not really realizing it was about linear systems,” said Binkley.
In addition to community members and local business leaders, other Berks County educators were invited to the Technology Showcase. Among those in attendance was Jennifer Engelbert, elementary computer teacher and technology coach at Tulpehocken Area School District.
“I think it’s a really great day to learn what other schools are doing,” said Engelbert. “We always look for new ideas to introduce with our staff and students.”
Tulpehocken has a one-to-one computer program using Google, as does Schuylkill Valley and many other districts across Berks.
“A lot of the things that they’re doing, we also have available in our district,” she said. “I really like that (technology) has the ability to individualize instruction for the students and their needs. Teachers can have four or five different levels of students going on in their classroom at one time so I think that’s really beneficial for individualization.”
Sen. Judy Schwank was also among those in attendance.
“I’ve been amazed by the integration of technology into every aspect of learning and education here at Schuylkill Valley,” said Schwank. “It’s an entire school district (elementary, middle and high school levels) that is using technology to help further the students’ education and the students seem very engaged so it’s encouraging to see.”