Abercrombie salutes Keaau school’s digital efforts


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

As the state Department of Education seeks funding to expand a technology pilot program, Gov. Neil Abercrombie will visit Keaau Elementary School today to congratulate students, faculty and staff on the pioneering work they have done to incorporate digital tools into their curriculum.

Abercrombie will visit the school at 10 a.m. to declare Digital Learning Day, and to witness the work being done as a result of the the school’s “one-to-one” program, which has succeeded in putting a laptop computer in the hands of every student at every grade level.

Keaau Elementary Principal Chad Keone Farias explained that most public schools deal with a situation where they have two or three computer labs, each with up to 30 computers. Students must be rotated through the labs so that they have as much exposure to using the machines as possible. But ultimately, such a system ends up failing kids in an age when they will be expected to know digital tools backwards and forwards upon leaving school.

“We’re trying to increase the number of digital devices on campus, increase exposure, increase capacity,” he said.

It’s been two days since his school hit the 100 percent mark, with every single child having access to his or her own digital learning device. The results of the program over the last year or so as the school approached its goal have been remarkable, he said.

“Some of it is quantitative, and a lot of it is qualitative. I swear, I could walk on water the last couple of days. The kids are loving it, and they’re so appreciative. Really, I had little to do with it. It’s the community that made it happen. But I get to reap the benefits,” he said with a laugh.

Test scores have shown marked increases, he said, especially for a school in an economically depressed area like Puna, where almost 80 percent of the keiki receive free or reduced-price lunch. For instance, the school’s Hawaii State Assessment scores last year, when about 50 percent of the students had full-time access to their own computer, showed big changes.

“We crushed the state average in math, and we were right at the state average in reading,” he said. “We’re very proud of those gains.”

It’s been a learning experience for both the students and the faculty, as teachers have had to learn how to incorporate the devices into daily lesson plans, and how to change the information to fit the student. For instance, some programs allow the teachers and students to access sources of information like Associated Press articles that are tailored to different grade levels, using different vocabulary and sentence structure depend on a student’s level.

Farias said that well-funded private schools, like Punahou and Kamehameha, have been supplying their students with devices for several years now, but Abercrombie and the state DOE hope to make such materials available to all students.

At Keaau, the purchases of the computers were made possible through public-private partnerships with companies like Hawaii Electric Light Co.

In his Jan. 22 State of the State Address this year, Abercrombie identified the digital curriculum effort as an important area of focus.

“I am advocating for a significant investment and commitment to support the DOE and BOE’s Digital Materials Initiative to provide students with learning opportunities for the 21st century,” he said. “Within the next three years, we aim to provide each of our public school students with current curricular materials on a digital device, such as a tablet or laptop.

This initiative takes advantage of new technology for learning and the state’s broadband infrastructure. Having students with curriculum materials on a digital device solves the problem of not having enough textbooks or obsolete textbooks. Common curriculum statewide is no easy task, which is why we are seeking dedicated funds for teacher training to empower them with current instructional innovations. Our students will be engaged in learning, and graduate with the knowledge and preparation for using these technological tools in college and the workplace.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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