Technology is not a replacement for quality instruction. St. Johns has taken the approach that all technology decisions will be made by assessing first what is best for the learner. We believe that "how the technology is used" is just as important as "what technology is used". It should come as no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to the national dialogue on educational practices that research revealed that “how students learn best” is hotly debated. Conventional wisdom about this topic has changed (and continues to change) rapidly. "Technology needs to become a part of the learning process to enable students to develop vital skills in collaboration, productivity, critical thinking, and innovation," notes Dr. Gaffey, the Director of Technology and Innovation, who has worked with the School's stakeholders to assesses student needs and introduce sweeping changes throughout the curriculum.
The STEAM program has become a major guiding force at the school. STEAM is a well known abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. At St. Johns we have distinguished our program by facilitating the ideals of engaging education by providing resources and guidance in every academic discipline. Key features of our ongoing program include:
1. Classroom Updates: Classes are being updated to facilitate future learning. This includes flexible arrangements, whiteboard tops, and standing desks to improve teacher-student engagement and focus.
2. Classroom Technology: Classroom displays are being updated to large screen LED screens, most with multipoint touch screen technology. The screens are placed on stands to allow for flexibility in usage. Teachers are getting updated teaching technology including updated iPads and Macbook Airs, releasing the teachers from the confines of their desk or a classroom whiteboard. Teachers are free to roam the classroom while they instruct. Every student grades 2 - 12 have a personal iPad in the classroom.
3. Student Focused Learning: Teachers are working more activities into their lessons that encourage student problem solving and project based learning. Students must work through the problems to truly understand the subject material. Teachers are given flexibility to create exciting activities that inspire and excite student learning. Examples include designing a 3D printed robot, creating their own animal preserve, or designing their own weather measurement equipment.
4. Teacher Support: Creating an engaging classroom is not easy, but the school has dedicated a full support team to provide help and professional development to all the teachers. This includes support staff in the Heinrich Learning Resource Center and the Technology and Curriculum departments that work with teachers and students daily to support the STEAM program.
5. STEAM in EVERY Subject: Our STEAM program is not a special class, unconnected from a student's academic courses. The STEAM ideals are working into every subject, and across subjects. We believe that students learn best when they are engaged and active, so we strive to make all learning part of the STEAM program. For example, students in art might create their own Viking helmets to be used in their social studies class to make video reports about their study of the ancient Vikings and their influence on history.
3D Printing Lab
3D printing has begun to appear in a variety of fields, from medical, to engineering, to art. When the school decided to build a 3D Printing Lab, we again focused on how 3D printing could best support as many students as possible. In our first year we set up a dedicated room with eight 3D printers. We placed the lab next to the Technology Center to assure all day support for the lab. The eight 3D printers include a large scale printer and a duel extruder printer allowing for a wide variety of job types. Students from all subjects and grades have made use of the lab, creating a variety of different projects. Each printer is able to print multiple files at a time, so entire classes are able to print simultaneously allowing every student to have their own 3D printed object. Activities have included printed brains, theatre stage designs, art projects, robots, creative writing assignments, and biological processes reproductions.
Makerspace Fabrication Lab
As we developed our STEAM program, we know projects and problem based learning were going to be a major focus of our instruction. The school developed the MakerSpace to support a variety of activities for students of all grades. The lab is a combination of hi and low-tech resources that provide students with skills in collaboration, technology, and creativity. The centerpiece of the lab are four touch screen whiteboard tables allow students to display a computer screen over four feet long that a group and work with. Along with the tables is a lego wall, a massive LittleBits collection, and a huge collection of building materials. The room can easily accommodate any class size to facilitate an engaging and hands on lesson.
Teacher Training Program
St. Johns Country Day School provides dedicated technology staff that focus on supporting teachers in the classroom with advance training and in classroom support throughout the year. The school is a member of the Apple Foundations program. Through the program, teachers participate in 24 hours of intensive technical and pedagogical training sessions that focus on research supported techniques that focus on increasing student motivation, engagement, participation, critical thinking skills, and learning gains.
iPads are used to enhance our learning environment in grades K-12. Every student has access to an iPad. All teachers are trained to support learning using the unique abilities of the iPad. New apps and books appear on their iPad throughout the school year as their teachers begin to cover new topics. Book bags are no longer filled with heavy textbooks. Teachers are not bound by a limited list of tools. As technology and resources change and advance, teachers are able to request new resources that they send directly to their students’ iPads. This new way of issuing course materials has already slashed the costs a parents previously spent on traditional hardcover texts from $450 per student to less than $250 per student for new apps and other electronic course materials.
The School installed software in every classroom that allows teachers to display on a screen or projector the information on their iPads so that students can easily see what the teacher is looking at. In addition, St. Johns teamed up with Nearpod to provide a truly innovative classroom experience. With Nearpod, the teacher controls exactly what is displayed on every student's iPad. But Nearpod is much more than a platform to show notes, websites, and movies. Teachers work formal and informal assessments into Nearpod during instruction to receive instantaneous feedback from their students about the level of student mastery and retention of information. Almost any type of assessment is possible, from multiple choice, to free response, to drawing diagrams. Students are locked into Nearpod and remain on task. When teachers are not using Nearpod, they are able to lock students into whatever they are working on to help students avoid distraction and stay on task.
Student Emails and Accounts
Students are provided an @sjcds.net email address, as well as access to online file storage, and document collaboration through Google Apps for Education. St. Johns has also entered into a partnership with Google and enrolled in Google Apps for Education. This partnership provides access to unprecedented levels of productivity tools and classroom collaboration apps that are tied to a student's email account. Students need only remember a single user id and password to gain access to email, Haiku Learning, and the entire suite of Google applications. To round out the student support software, the School enrolled all students in “Turn-it-in” to allow for a greater level of feedback on their writing.
St. Johns' infrastructure consists of a Gigabit fiber-optic network, with campus wide wireless capability. We offer Internet access at up to 100 Mb of bandwidth. We support both Microsoft and Apple OS X servers and workstations and stay current with updates and the latest versions of operating systems and software. Our servers support a Microsoft Active Directory environment, a CIPA compliant internet filter, networked software applications, and Data Storage for students and faculty. We offer telephone service from all classrooms, offices and mechanical spaces, and support mobile communication devices for the administration, staff and students.
On campus students have access a Computer Science Computer Lab, an advanced Publishing and Graphic Arts Computer Lab, a Research Computer Lab, an Interactive Lower School Technology Lab, two Mobile Laptop Labs, and each lower school grade has their own iPad Lab.
St. Johns has also made significant investments in several common spaces that the School refers to as Technology Centers. These centers have more resources and allow for hardware to be shared in a variety of configurations. The Upper School Computer Science and Journalism Labs received an extensive update including new computers and better large screen displays. The Collaboration Center is configured for group work and presentations. Multiple large screen TVs, Macbook Air Laptops, whiteboards, and team seating support project-based learning and collaboration. The School also set up a Mac Lab with a Green Screen iPad Studio. The goal of this space is to take full advantage of the iPad’s ability to create video content. Students can come to the Mac Lab to generate audio-visual projects all in one place, as research and recording tools are co-located here. The third Technology Center is the new Art and Engineering Lab. In this space students are able to take advantage of robotics, electronics, and graphic design tools to acquire skills they will need in a range of careers.
Since St. Johns initiated a live video-streaming program, parents now have access to the School information like never before. School meetings, assemblies, sporting events, and performances have been streamed. Students have begun making videos documenting their activities and experiences. Social media usage has grown exponentially to share and celebrate student experiences more broadly. Teachers share videos and pictures to provide parents with a clear picture of what is happening at school. Families are more engaged with the School and the learning process. St. Johns has provided numerous opportunities for students who have been too ill to attend school to, nonetheless, "attend class virtually" by using Skype, Google Hangouts, or other video streaming technology to keep up with their classmates. Classes are taking “virtual field trips” with students from other schools and experts from around the world. Parents who are out of town have been able to participate in parent-teacher conferences using the iPad.