Jenah Kastelic’s article this past Friday for the Woodward News, “iSurprise: Area school hands out iPods,” tells the story of Gage Public Schools rolling out iPod Touches for all teachers and students in grades 3-12. Gage is a small community of several hundred people in extreme western Oklahoma. More photos of the rollout are available on the Gage Schools website.

Students in Gage, Oklahoma, receive iPod Touches on Thursday, October 22, 2009
Jenah wrote:

If you see students carrying Apple iPods around school, do not assume they are listening to the latest hits. In fact, they might be studying.

Gage School is the first in Oklahoma to provide all teachers with an Apple laptop computer and an iPod touch, and all students in 3rd through 12th grades with an iPod touch.

The classes met in the school auditorium on Thursday morning for what they thought was a presentation about the new technology.

Ten teachers and 88 students were pleasantly surprised after being told they would receive the newest tool in learning. A few students jumped out of their seats and high fives were shared all around.

Superintendent Doug Taylor said, “this gives our kids in Gage, Oklahoma the same opportunity as any kid in the world. It’s a big thing for me.”

He said Gage was one of the first schools in the area to begin using interactive SMARTboard technology in the classroom.

“This is just the next step to turn our classrooms into twenty-first century learning centers,” said Taylor.

Moving from electronic whiteboards in the classroom to a 1:1 learning device in the hands of EVERY student and teacher is a BIG deal. Like several other rural superintendents with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work in the past few years, Doug Taylor is passionate about technology’s power to level the playing field for rural students and open up learning opportunities which were previously unrealistic.

According to a Woodward News article by Bridget Base on the Gage Public Schools’ website, Skype is serving as an intercom system between classrooms in the district. Digital technologies are opening new doors of learning and resources for learning for Gage students and teachers alike. Bridget wrote:

Why does Gage Public Schools need such a highly technological learning system?

“The advantage is [the students] can be in Ellis County, in the middle of rural America, and have the same opportunities as anyone,” said Taylor.

Even though Gage High School students are miles from any college campus, they still have the opportunity to be concurrently enrolled via the Internet. Some Gage seniors are graduating high school with as many as 18 college credit hours.

“We have an unlimited amount of resources,” said Jason Froage, a high school teacher at Gage.

Currently Gage has slightly more computers than students. Even the coaches utilize the technology by using the Interactive Learning Boards to demonstrate plays.

If you work or have worked with entire campus staffs on technology professional development, you know what a BIG deal that last sentence is!

I’m excited about this latest announcement from Gage Public Schools relating to their uses of digital technologies to support learning, because it doesn’t represent just a “flash in the pan” announcement. Superintendent Doug Taylor is serious about providing a more level playing field for his students and teachers with technology, and I know we’re going to be hearing great things from his team of learners at Gage. See my May 2009 post, “We’ve come so far, so fast – And we need more digital witnesses in the Oklahoma panhandle!” and September 2008 podcast, “A Conversation with Superintendent Doug Taylor about Student Engagement, Digital Storytelling, and Collaborative Digital Technologies,” for more background about Doug Taylor, Gage Public Schools, and his motivation to open digital learning doors for his students and teachers. Unfortunately (and depressingly) my February 2008 post for the TechLearning blog, “A superintendent enthused about digital storytelling” is no longer available online. At the time, I just linked to the article from my own blog, I did not cross-post it.

Good leadership matters, and if the leaders at the top of the school organization don’t “get it,” meaningful changes which involve the uses of digital technologies to engage students are not going to happen at scale across a school campus or district. When school leaders DO “get it,” however, exciting things happen. We’ve got multiple examples of this happening in our state. Howe Public Schools under the leadership of Scott Parks and Crescent Public Schools under the leadership of Steve Shiever are two other prominent examples. Jerry Vaughn in Floydada ISD, Texas, is another rural superintendent who continues to make a HUGE impact for and with his teachers, students, and families in his community via digital learning technologies.

Working with and seeing the results of the work of leaders like these gives me real hope for the cause of educational transformation in our U.S. public schools. I certainly agree with those who observe that simply HAVING digital learning devices in the hands of every student and teacher is not sufficient to bring about fundamental changes the ways learning takes place inside and outside the classroom. Providing that 1:1 access, under the guidance and supervision of administrative leaders who EXPECT those tools to be used regularly by BOTH teachers and students for learning, is the real key — combined with LOTS of professional development time and opportunities. Learners DO need to have access to digital learning tools as well as connectivity, but also need educational leaders who expect these tools to be used constructively and creatively to support learning– and provide PAID TIME for teachers to learn as well as share those methods.

Now that Gage students in grades 3 – 12 all have iPod Touches, the big challenge is helping them learn to create educational content that will go ON those iPod Touches! That is an educational technology objective shared by Dr. Tim Tyson at the NECC 2007 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot from student and teacher Storychasers in Gage in the coming months!

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