Photo: Kendra Baker / Hearst Connecticut Media
NEW FAIRFIELD — The increased use of technology in New Fairfield’s school district may continue long after the novel coronavirus pandemic ends.
“This last year has thrown education all up in the air and required us to rethink and recreate and find new ways to do things that would have been easy in the past,” Assistant Superintendent Julie Luby said during Thursday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.
The incorporation of technology into curriculum has been a “silver lining” in the stressful and uncertain times New Fairfield’s school district has found itself due to COVID-19, she said.
“We have embraced all kinds of new tools and technology (that) have made what we’ve done this year possible,” Luby said. “Some of the things will forever change the way we do business because they have application — whether we’re remote or in person — and are great improvements to our instructional programs.”
Curriculum director Alyce Misuraca said the district’s work around technology has been driving “instructional shifts” since schools closed last spring, when educators were “catapulted into leveraging the power of technology to deliver instruction.”
With many companies providing free access to programs and online tools, the district was overwhelmed with options, so a group of teachers “dedicated their time throughout the summer to sift through those technology tools that we were using and provide feedback,” Misuraca said.
After identifying tools that would support student engagement, delivery of instruction, assessment and curriculum-enhancing resources, Misuraca said a “technology toolbox” was developed and provided to teachers when schools reopened this fall.
The district’s technology and communication director, Karen Fildes, said a survey of teachers showed that two particular programs were highly favored: Kami and Seesaw.
Science teacher Jean Gephart said for her department, Kami “became a big favorite.”
“It really provides some awesome opportunities for us to be able to communicate, provide feedback for students and then have students provide information to us,” she said.
Gephart said Kami allows educators to annotate text and edit from any type of document and allows students to create on multiple facets.”
“They can create using the written word, video, voice-over — and they can use all three at the same time, which was one of the things that makes Kami kind of unique,” she said.
Gephart said Kami also has “a wonderful collaboration tool that allows both teachers and students to be able to work on the same document and communicate with each other.”
“I don’t actually know what I would do without it,” she said. “It is definitely something that we are thankful to have the opportunity to use, and we’re learning more and more how we can use it and do a lot of collaboration. It’s becoming something very powerful that will definitely transition into a non-virtual classroom as well because of the collaboration (it allows).”
Fildes said Kami is being used at the elementary level by “a number of classrooms,” and was found to be “one of the most used tools across the grade levels.”
Second-grade teacher Meghan O’Rourke said Seesaw took some time to learn at first, but it’s but it’s now something she uses every day.
“Seesaw is a platform that engages student learning through the use of creative tools,” she said. “They have many different tools that the kids can use, and it gives them the opportunity to express themselves and share all their work with their teachers.”
O’Rourke said the program allows students to express themselves through text, voice and video, and take and upload pictures of their work. They can also add shapes and speech bubbles, move objects and write, highlight and edit text, she said.
Seesaw offers a range of useful features for teachers, O’Rourke said. They can link to different activities, Google Slides and videos through Seesaw, give voice-recorded feedback to students and share activities with other teachers in the district.
O’Rourke said her students enjoy the creative aspect of the program, as well as recording themselves and sharing their work through pictures.
“Whenever I ask them what they like best, it’s always recording themselves, using the tools — and I get a lot of, ‘Everything,’” she said with a laugh. “They really have some very nice features for the students.”
Fildes said Seesaw is being used up through third grade, and she expects the incorporation of more technology into the curriculum for the town’s youngest learners to have a long-lasting impact.
“This is going to be a really interesting time for us because we have preschool and our kindergarten students using technology pretty much daily during these periods of remote learning, which we really didn’t do in the past,” she said. “Our younger students are now going to be filtering up through the grade levels to the point that they’re going to enter middle and high school being much better users of technology.”
Fildes said this will require the teaching of different skills at the middle and high school levels.
“They are very tech-savvy, but they may not necessarily have the same level of skills for things like information literacy, which is another area that we really need to focus on in conjunction with the development of the technology side,” she said.
With the results of the recent teacher/technology survey, Fildes said she and Misuraca are “analyzing the data” and looking at it from both a budgetary and professional development perspective to figure out “what we want to do moving forward for the second half of this year, but also planning for next.”