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December 2018

Building Valuable Skills through Technology

superWhether you like them or not, computers, robots, artificial intelligences, and automation techniques have had a major impact on our global society.  Just about everywhere you look you will find examples of technology infused into our lives, for better or worse, and many would agree that technology will become even more prevalent in our lives in the future.  

Our students, digital natives, have grown up all of their lives with computers, hand-held electronic devices and social media.  In this edition of Superintendent’s Corner, I wanted to share some of the exciting ways that we are incorporating technology into our work to help our students continue to appreciate the benefits that technology can offer society while at the same time educating them about some of the challenges that technology offers as well. 

First off, the Plymouth Public Schools engages in providing every one of our students in grades 6-12 with a Google Chromebook.  These Chromebooks reduce the need for heavy textbooks for our students but more importantly, they allow for equitable access required in a digital society.  Teachers and students use these Chromebooks to collaborate, communicate, investigate and analyze.  Being responsible for one’s own Chromebook also reinforces the importance of being a good digital citizen.  Digital Citizenship skills, including how to portray one's self in digital environments, is part of the K-12 curriculum in both technology and health classes. Sixth grade students at the middle school participate in a Journeys class in which they learn how to use their Chromebooks and the Google Suite of tools to support their learning. Many students have been introduced to these tools at some level, as our elementary schools are equipped for Chromebook use at the one to one level during periods of the school day.

As a district, we have also been intentional about providing our students with opportunities to engage with competitive and collaborative leagues that use technology as the platform for the work.  Our elementary students have the opportunity to participate in after school Lego robotics clubs that allows students to use their hands to build Lego robots.  All of our middle school students participate in a yearly Innovative Technologies course that engages them in coding, web design, and technology.  This year our middle school students engaged in the Cyber Robotics Coding Competition and won first place during the BootCamp phase.  A number of these students will be attending the finals of the Cyber Robotics Coding Competition at the University of Bridgeport on December 7.  Our high school students have the opportunity to join the FIRST Robotics Team called P.E.A.C.C.E Robotics.  This worldwide competition, created and implemented by NASA, engages high school students in developing a robot that will compete collaboratively with robots from other teams to win matches.  Words cannot describe a FIRST Robotics competition so you will have to Google “FIRST Robotics” to appreciate what this entails.  For the 2019-20 school year, we plan to utilize grant funds to implement an AP Computer Science Principles class at the high school level for students to continue their learning.

Working with robots and coding is fun and games but it also builds valuable skills, skills that can be generalized for future goal accomplishment.  For example, to participate in all of these activities students must understand the overall goal and then develop a plan to achieve that goal on a schedule.  In order to achieve the goal, students will be confronted with problems that will cause them to use their creativity and collective wisdom to design solutions that overcome the problems.  Students will also need to confront failure and learn that failure is a normal part of the learning and design process.  Through this process, we expect that our learners will come to appreciate that hard work, determination, teamwork, research, and repeated attempts will often lead to success.  Finally, we believe that students will see how they can use both their hands and their minds to design and implement effective solutions. 

While not everything about technology has made us a better society, our students will need to engage in a global society where technology skills are a part of everyday life.  As a school system, we will continue to offer opportunities to help our students master high-leverage skills through engaging opportunities like the ones mentioned above.

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