12/09/13 The Plymouth Schools have received official notice of being selected as an Apple Distinguished Program. Plymouth Community School Corporation Assistant Superintendent Dan Funston said, “The Apple Distinguished Program designation is reserved for programs that meet criteria for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence, and demonstrate a clear vision for exemplary learning environments.” He added, “The selection of Plymouth Community School Corporation as an Apple Distinguished Program highlights our success as an innovative and compelling learning environment that engages students and provides tangible evidence of academic accomplishment.”
One of several requirements for showing Apple the way in which PCSC students are using technology was a two-minute video that featured several Plymouth Schools students and narrated by Superintendent Dan Tyree.
The school corporation began phasing in computers and other electronic devices that could be placed in the hands of every student four years ago. Funston was the principal of Lincoln Junior High at the beginning of the project. He was instrumental in securing the arrangements with Apple and continues to be the 1:1 program administrator. Since then, administrators have expanded the project and PCSC currently provides a computing device for each student in grades K-12. Students at the kindergarten and first grade levels use iPads while those in grades 2 through 12 have Mac Books.
According to Funston, PCSC currently has some 4,200-4,300 computers or other devises for use by students (approximately 3,700), teachers and administrators. An Apple certified technician is on staff to make needed upgrades or repairs.
Funston indicated that the electronic devices have lead to different teaching methods for teachers. He said, “We have seen innovative teaching and learning in our district enabled because we have a 1:1 program. We have been able to implement a Project Based Learning program in grades K-12.”
“Our instructional practices will never be the same. The role of the teacher is shifting to that of facilitator of learning. Students have access to an abundance of information at the tips of their fingers. Our teachers are learning to facilitate the development of knowledge and skills that eliminates the role teachers once played as the main purveyor of knowledge while enabling our students to be more self-directed. Teaching and Learning will never be the same in Plymouth Community School Corporation.,” he said. “Our learners in these environments are reaching out to experts on a local and global scale. Through project design, our students are creating innovative projects that allow them to apply the concepts typically only learned in a book,” he added.
Former Washington Elementary was converted to Washington Discovery Academy and parents apply to have their children enroll in the program, no matter what school would have been designated as their home school. Riverside Intermediate and Lincoln Junior High share a PBL program under the joint Innovation Academy, and approximately 200 students at Plymouth High School attend the Weidner School of Inquiry. As examples of the strides students are achieving, Funston said, “We have created Self Organized Learning Environments where kids are currently using their computers to explore app (application) creation and working with our 3D printers to develop prototypes of their designs.”
However, the innovative 1:1 use of computers is not restricted to project-based programs. “Our 1:1 program also allows us to customize learning…especially in elementary math where we have started to allow students to move at their own pace so that the pace of the teacher is not holding them back. We have also been able to customize learning by allowing our students to explore what they are passionate about.” Funston said.
Laura Garrity, fourth grade teacher at Menominee Elementary, has nothing but praise for the technology supplied for her students. Garrity said, “The individual computers allow us to give specific attention to the needs of the students and we can customize their learning.” Garrity said there was an emphasis placed on technology in her education courses at Taylor University, but there was little in the way of technology at the two schools where she split her time student teaching. She said, “Here at Plymouth we have been given outstanding professional development in the use of the technology aspects.” Fourth grade students are allowed to take their computers home one day each week. Garrity said, “They take really good care of them because they understand the importance of having a computer for their work.”
Plymouth Schools are now an observation site for other school corporations that are incorporating technology into their programs.
Funston believes the innovations afforded by the use of electronics will be importance in the future. He said, “We make progress every year to become a great school. While we are happy to receive the recognition as an Apple Distinguished Program, we are even more excited about our future.”
Carol Anders Correspondent