YCCF donates $200,000 to supply students with personal computers, tablets

By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – In three years time, every student in the local school district will have a computer or tablet for use at school and home, thanks to a special $200,000 grant from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation.

The local foundation is donating the money to Friends of Big Sky Education over the next three years to help bring all the district’s technology up with top schools nationwide.

“We’ve got a mission to be the best small school in the state of Montana,” said Big Sky School Board Chairman Loren Bough. “To get there we have to have technology for everyone, and there’s no way to pay for that out of the public budget… We know parents will appreciate how great this is.”

The program, called 1:1, will increase student engagement in the classroom, according to Matt Bakken, the middle and high school Technology Education teacher and chairman of the six-teacher technology committee.

“All these kids [may] have iPads and iPhones, smartphones,” Bakken said. “With these devices in the classroom, they can interact and collaborate with their peers, parents and teachers.”

By developing digital-age learning experiences and assessments, Bakken says teachers can address and customize students’ diverse learning styles and abilities.

Digital fluency will also help students be prepared for life after high school.

“We want to expose our students to many operating systems and devices that they’ll [use] after high school,” Bakken said. “They’ll know how to maneuver around Windows, Google and a Mac operating system.”

Parents and students will need to go through training before students receive their devices in the fall.

The school will also promote online citizenship and ethics, teaching students about copyright, intellectual property, appropriate documentation of sources, Bakken said. “They also need to have digital etiquette – [to know] that whatever they post online, it’s there forever.”

Big Sky Supt. Jerry House worked alongside Friends of Big Sky Education to request the grant, and Bough, also vice president of the YCCF board, was integral to the fundraising effort alongside the organization’s executive director Casey Schwartz.

“It’s a really ambitious project,” Schwartz said. “The truth is – and I think Yellowstone Club members responded to this – if we don’t have up-to-date technology, we can’t compete with other schools. We’ve leveled the playing field.”

Teachers have begun professional development for the new program, spending eight hours with an educational technology and integration consultant on May 9 and 10. They learned about apps; integrating technology into the curriculum; using Google spreadsheets for surveys, tests and student feedback; and a trend called “flipping the classroom,” in which students watch a video lesson from their teacher at home, and then do schoolwork in the classroom, receiving more on-one-one attention.

Bakken says continued professional development and support will be key for success. He would like to bring experts on-site for future trainings, and send teachers to national educator conferences and in-state workshops.

“[We don’t want] these devices sitting around in the classroom or in the kids’ backpacks. We want the kids to be engaged with using these technology devices.”

The initiative will be tied in with the school’s wireless cloud, allowing the IT department to update the devices remotely. A school-wide learning management system will assimilate resources in one place where students can log in and see their classes, content, assignment calendars, take tests and quizzes, and see their grades instantly.

“There are a lot of components that we’re trying to fit together into this humongous puzzle so we can implement this program,” Bakken said. “How we’re going to manage the devices, professional development, benchmark-setting for students, how to be accountable for the devices – the list goes on.”

Community meeting set for May 29

There will be a community meeting on May 29 to inform parents and students about the new 1:1 technology initiative. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.