Students, parents, teachers, administrators and community and business representatives spent last Saturday discussing the future of technology in the Kent School District.
About 135 people took part in the Tech Summit at Kentwood High School.
The idea for the summit came from Carmen Rahm, the district’s chief information officer, who put on a similar event in Seattle a couple of years ago as the executive director of technology and chief information officer for Seattle Public Schools. Kent hired him last June.
“When you think about Kent School District, technology comes to mind, not just in Kent but statewide and nationally,” Kent Superintendent Calvin Watts told summit attendees during opening remarks. “The questions then came to my mind: How are we using technology? How are we ensuring that this infrastructure that we have – this wonderful tool that we have – is not simply used as a toy? Is it actually used as a tool to help enhance and advance teaching and learning? That become the question, how and to what degree are we connecting teaching and learning with our technology.”
How the district uses technology is a big part of meeting the goals outlined in the recently refreshed strategic plan, Watts said.
“The goal in the next five years is to enhance our core business,” he said. “Our core business is teaching and learning with an emphasis on learning, and that means we need to ask ourselves – our neighbors, community members, work family, home family – how are we doing? Are we doing what we said we would do in terms of using our technology to support teaching and learning?”
Jim Lengel, a teacher and author of books on education, communication and technology, facilitated the summit. He has hosted similar events throughout the world, including the summit for Seattle Public Schools.
“Lots of people around the world are re-inventing their schools,” Lengel said. “They’re not happy with school the way it is. They’re not happy with schools the way that current politicians are telling them it ought to be done. They want to re-invent their own schools that educate kids the way they want to be educated. The people of the schools pretty much know what needs to be done. … And, in many of them, the schools have been running for almost a decade based on their dreams. These people create a video and then build the schools and the classrooms based on what they dreamed about in their videos.”
At the Kent summit, small groups gathered around 18 tables to create sketches and scripts of what the day in the life of of 21st century student in the Kent School District would look like.
The sketches and scripts will be posted on the district’s website in a few weeks, and after opportunities for feedback, the top ones will be incorporated in to a short video, which will be used to create a road map of how technology should be used in schools.
“People are more likely to watch a five-to-six minute video,” Rahm said of the reasoning behind making a film instead of a written report of the summit’s findings.
The district will host three community meetings at the end of April to further discuss technology use. While the dates have not been finalized, the meetings will be at Kent Elementary, Carriage Crest Elementary and Meridian Middle School.
Lengel encouraged summit participants to think outside the box.
“Imagine school as it ought to be,” he said. “What are the students doing? Why? What’s in their hands? What’s on their mind? What’s in their hearts? You are going to answer those questions today and those answers are going to guide the development of teaching and learning and technology in the Kent School District.”
Kentwood junior Spencer McLaughlin was one of the students who took part in the summit.
“I think a lot of good ideas were being brought up,” he said. “A lot of people were on the same page with the idea of students having a choice or changing how it’s learned, so everyone doesn’t have to be in the classroom. I think that would actually help a lot of students.
“I know it won’t be an instant change but a gradual change in the Kent School District at all the schools – not just the high schools.”
McLaughlin, a third-year student in Kentwood’s Japanese program, presented his group’s first sketch, which showed students interacting with people throughout the world using technology such as Skype.
“I think it would be cool for language classes to communicate with people from the country who are born speaking the language because it would help with fluency,” he said. “It would help with understanding both the language and the culture.”
Watts, who participated in the summit, said the event was a good starting point.
“We have questions that are being asked about how well and to what extent are we providing learning opportunities for our students, because our students are sharing with us exactly what they need and how they need to learn,” Watts said. “I could not be more excited about the opportunities. I am also challenged about how do we turn this vision that is going to emerge into a reality. I certainly believe we have the people here in the Kent School District and supporting the Kent School District who will help in that cause. For those reasons, I could not be more excited about our future.”