Cedar Falls Schools Making the World Their Classroom
CEDAR FALLS, IA The countdown is on for launching a project to expand classroom learning across town and across the globe for K-12 students at the Cedar Falls Community Schools.
Beginning in January, the schools’ digital learning initiative will put web-connected notebook computers in the hands of every high school student, opening up access to learning tools and experiences outside the classroom walls. For grades 3-6, one notebook will be available for every two students, and pre-K through grade 2 students will share iPads on a three-to-one basis. Notebooks will be distributed to all junior high students at the beginning of the 2014 fall semester.
Plans to take digital learning tools to the next level as a “one-to-one” school have been in the works for about two years. Cedar Falls teachers, administrators, technical staff, school board members and parents have all been part of the planning effort through the District Technology Committee.
“Truly, the most important thing is that we aren’t doing this for the sake of having more technology in the classroom,” said Dr. Andy Pattee, Superintendent of Schools. “We are undertaking this very large initiative to help students learn and showcase their learning at greater levels, by providing much more access to tools for that than we’ve had in the past.”
“A lot of work by many, many people has been done over the past couple of years to be sure that we’re doing this the right way, focused on student learning and student achievement, with all the professional development behind it for our staff to insure that it’s implemented with fidelity in the classroom,” Pattee said.
At each school building, a team of teachers is offering peer training to help everyone get familiar with the new tools so they can be used effectively for better student outcomes.
The school’s technology staff have worked over the past three years to improve the district’s internal network and beef up wireless access points at every building to get ready for increased web traffic during the school day.
“Up to now, a lot of work has been done behind the scenes,” said district Information and Technology Services Supervisor Shane Paige. “In January we’ll start rolling out Chromebooks for every student at the high school, and within 10 months our integration will be complete at every building throughout the district.”
Paige explained that the Chromebook laptops the District is deploying are easily interchangeable between students. That’s because software applications and document storage are “in the cloud” and tied to the student’s unique user identity, rather than on the hardware.
A key piece of preparation is happening this week, as the Cedar Falls School District switches its primary internet connection to gigabit service from Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU).
“Early in the planning, we knew that if we were going to get the benefits of a cloud-based system, we had to have a rock-solid internet connection,” Paige said. “That’s really why we’re making the move to CFU, for the reliability and the local support that we can call on if we need it.”
The school system operates its wide area network over fiber optic cable that CFU installed several years ago at no cost to the district. The schools will maintain a back-up internet connection through the Iowa Communications Network, or ICN.
“Serving the schools in this way is a perfect example of why we upgraded our entire system to fiber-to-the-premises,” said CFU Network Manager Rob Houlihan. “It’s meant to be a community asset that supports innovation in business, in education and in local government in Cedar Falls.”
Earlier this year CFU completed a city-wide upgrade of its communications network, bringing a fiber optic connection to every home and business in Cedar Falls. In May, CFU added service plans at one gigabit per second to its full range of internet products for home and business users.
How will connecting students to the world change learning outcomes?
“Really the possibilities are endless when you focus on student learning and enable that with technology,” says Pattee. “The world is shrinking, and we all know that. Now, with technology we can open it up for collaboration that happens across town or across the world, and give students a broader range of classroom learning experiences that can happen instantaneously and seamlessly. That’s exciting for our teachers and our students.”