By Karen Billing
In Solana Santa Fe Principal Julie Norby’s office, the image of a frog leaping fearlessly onto a lily pad hangs on her wall. The cartoon is representative of this year’s focus at the school: Jumping feet first into the future of 21st century learning through the use of iPads.
Thanks to the generosity of its parents, Solana Santa Fe will start this school year with a huge technology upgrade. The school now has 202 new iPads for a 1:1 program in third through sixth grade and an extra set in the media center. Additionally, the school has iPod Touches in a 1:1 program at the third grade level.
To help make this technology boost possible, last year Solana Santa Fe parents were able to raise $47,000 through their technology pledge drive. The plan was to implement a 1:1 program over the course of about three years, but parent Steven Marshall wanted to ensure it happened sooner rather than later, donating an additional $47,500 to get the program started this year.
“It’s a challenging time in education but one of the most exciting times to be in education,” said Norby. “This is my 30th year in education and I’ve never seen anything take off like this has taken off…Schools across the country are doing this in just a year’s time, it’s unstoppable. Right now it’s bigger than we are; it’s exciting. You can’t choose to change, you have to change.”
Norby made sure iPads went into the hands of every teacher in the school over the summer so they could familiarize themselves with the product and learn the applications. Apple TVs were installed in all of the classrooms so even teachers in classrooms that don’t have the 1:1 devices can still use iPads to teach the curriculum — everything done on a teacher’s or student’s iPad can be projected onto a classroom screen through Apple TV.
The decision to purchase the 202 new iPads was the result of a pilot program conducted last year.
Teachers Angie Tremble and Cara Spitzmiller were the “trailblazers” last year in fourth grade with the pilot, alternating with the use of iPods and iPads.
“They worked very hard to find the best way to implement these devices into the classroom,” Norby said. “It’s completely transformed the way that we teach and the way children learn.”
The devices were never used just to play educational games, but instead used to create products and projects. Tremble said even before the devices, she was always thinking of ways to weave technology into what the students were doing because it is just such a beneficial part of their education.
“The kids are so much more engaged and as a teacher that part was great to see,” Tremble said.
In order to determine the next step to take the technology program, Tremble looked at what device allowed the school to do what they wanted to do the best.
“We did a focus group with the kids in the pilot program to find what was the most beneficial and the most engaging, Tremble said. “One-hundred percent it was iPad over iPod touches.”
Tremble now serves as a “Teacher on Special Assignment” (TOSA), working as the mobile technology and integration coach for the entire school.
Norby said that Solana Santa Fe students are very high achieving so they aren’t seeing higher test scores as a result—they already score in the 90th percentile.
“The depth of learning is so much more, Norby said. “Students will do 10 times the amount of work and learn so much more because they are so engaged.”
It’s an exciting and challenging year, especially as it comes in the school’s 20th year in existence. An amazing nine teachers and staff members have been with the school all 20 years, including Principal Norby. The other eight 20-year staff members are Mary Ryan, Becky Gauthier, Christine Suppa, Kiki Bayisa, Sharon O’Brien, Lisa Owen, Nancy Smith and Judi Wilensky.
“The thing that hasn’t changed is kids are kids, they have the same needs,” Norby said of her 20 years in Rancho Santa Fe.
She’s the most proud that the school easily embraces change, that they change not just for change’s sake but for the sake of the kids. They are ready for the next frontier.
“We want to do it right and make sure we’re using the devices in the best way possible,” Norby said.