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RMS maps out tech plan

Signs taped to the wall create a kind of map of technology zones at Rosemount Middle School. Green means it’s OK for students to pull out a phone, tablet or laptop and connect to the school’s wireless network. Red means put it away. Yellow and blue zones are a kind of middle ground, areas where students need to ask permission before getting online.

The signs are an indication of the way students’ access to information has changed, and of the way RMS and other District 196 schools are approaching the rise of new technologies like smartphones and tablet computers.

At the start of the 2012 school year RMS added two mobile carts stocked with iPads. More recently, they added a cart of Chromebooks, low-cost laptops that run Google’s web-based Chrome operating system. But technology coordinator Jon Ofstad said the school’s approach isn’t about specific devices so much as it’s about finding curriculum that works across platforms.

So, unlike Farmington, which has put an iPad in the hands of every student, teachers might offer lessons that one student can access on a school-owned laptop while another uses the Android tablet he brought from home.

“We’re looking at that mobility piece being a big piece of what we’re doing moving forward,” Ofstad said. “You might have a kid coming in using an iPhone. Another comes in with a tablet of some sort…. They’re able to use that in the classroom.”

To make that patchwork collection of devices work, RMS has opened up its wireless network to student-owned devices. Kids can come in, go through a registration process and get a password to connect.

Students have taken advantage. The first week the system was up and running “well over 100” students signed up, Ofstad said. He’s still getting between 15 and 20 new additions each day.

“What I found a little staggering, honestly, is probably about one third, at least one third, brought in two devices,” Ofstad said. “They brought in a phone and a laptop, a phone and a tablet.”

Last week, a student came in with a brand new Microsoft Surface 2 tablet and an iPhone to connect to the network.

“It’s amazing what they’re walking in with,” Ofstad said. “The kids are real wise about it, too.”

It’s in part because so many students have their own devices the district has moved away from providing them.

Getting all of those devices to work together can be a challenge sometimes. Ofstad said the school has worked with curriculum providers to ensure what they’re offering works across platforms. It’s Ofstad’s job to make sure teachers don’t have to worry about making the technology work as they teach their lessons.

“If you can’t find some level of joy in the chaos you create by having all of these devices in play, then it might not be for some people,” he said.

For all of the chaos, Ofstad said the adoption of the new technology has gone well. Even teachers who say they are not technologically savvy are finding ways to use the devices that are showing up in students’ hands.

“I think it’s been huge,” Ofstad said. “I’ve been absolutely in awe of the projects the teachers have come up with. They’ve used their instructional savvy and they’ve put these tools to work.”

All students have to do is follow the signs.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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