Technology plays an important role in today’s classroom environment, and while the Sherman Independent School District strives to stay on the cutting edge of current techniques it can be a challenge to keep up with the evolution of today’s electronic devices.
“We’re working to upgrade and bring our teachers into the 21st century,” SISD Director of Technology Mignon Plyler said. “We provided a lot of staff development in the summer, but the interesting thing about that is, we never get finished because the technology is always changing and it’s always different and it’s always a challenge.”
Plyler explained how the district is working to meet that challenge with a presentation on the district’s technology plan, Internet safety policy and instructional technology initiatives during last month’s meeting of the SISD Board of Trustees.
The technology director explained that the district receives nearly $500,000 annually from the federal government’s Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, which assists schools in obtaining telecommunication devices and Internet access at affordable rates.
“Instruction is our priority, but from a technical standpoint, the safety and security of the data on our network is of utmost priority,” Plyler explained. “If our network is not secure and our data is not secure, it doesn’t matter because all of our instruction and all of our services rely on that.”
The technology plan includes goals of the SISD District Improvement Plan and is aligned with required goals from federal, state and local plans. One of those goals is to keep students safe while they are online.
“There are website after website to help our parents help our students to be safe while they’re online,” Plyler said. “We monitor Internet traffic for everyone who’s on the network — everybody pre-K to (grade) 12 to adult to guest has a network log-in. We try to model good technology practices to our students and tell them, ‘Don’t give anybody your password. It’s like your credit card PIN.’ And we do hold them accountable for things that happen with their log-in.”
All the schools in the district have technology specialists onsite to keep the campus running smoothly by providing support and instruction. The technology specialists give annual Internet safety lessons for students, custom-designed to each grade level, and teach technology electives at Piner Middle School and Dillingham Intermediate School.
“Those are very popular with our students, as you can imagine,” Plyler said.
Some of the current instructional technology initiatives the district has in place are flipping the classroom, teacher web pages and increasing the use of technology tools for teaching and learning. Several teachers at Sherman High School have begun flipping their classroom — a program where students watch instructional videos at home and then work on assignments in class with the teacher present — and Piner’s Team 71 will be putting the model into place later this year for seventh grade students.
“We are really encouraging our teachers and staff to provide resources for parents and students online,” Plyler said. “We already had a lot of teachers who had web pages, but (now) we have more than ever.”
The district has links to 221 teacher web pages on the district site, 132 teachers that have been to training and are still working on their pages, and around 100 different courses and resources available for students.
“The website creation tool we use has templates for the teachers, so they’re not required to know a lot of code,” Plyler explained. “If they can type and click and use Word, then they can have a web page. All in all, we are making great progress toward achieving this goal.”
Parents can search for teacher web pages by school by clicking on the “TeacherSites” link under the “Quick Links” heading on the district’s main page (www.shermanisd.net). Plyler said increasing the use of technology tools for teaching and learning is really about developing the skills needed to use modern technology, and not just for games.
“When our students are involved in blogging, some of the skills you see listed are writing skills, networking skills, reflection, information literacy,” the director of technology explained. “There’s just a plethora of things that our students are doing when they’re online. It’s not all about fun and games — we blocked the games on purpose because we figured they had enough opportunity to do those at home.”