Commentary by Cari Perchase

YOUTH (K-12 EDUCATION)

Cari Perchase, Principal, Marshall Simonds Middle School, Burlington Public Schools

Marshall Simonds Middle School logoI can remember the first time I saw a computer in school as a child.  I was in middle school. It was the mid 1980s, and we were in an art class.  In high school, instead of the traditional typing class (which was still being offered), I chose to take a basic programming class, where I copied pre-written programs into the computer.  In 1991, I brought a word processor with me to college to type my papers.   When I first started teaching, there were two computer labs in the building and students would go once or twice a week to learn how to word process and how to do internet searches.  In a few short years, two computer labs multiplied to having two to three computers in every classroom.  Technology was at a premium; there was much enthusiasm, from teachers and administrators, to use technology to support learning.  The limited access to the technology was often the barrier to integrating technology on a daily basis.  If we could reserve the portable projector, then we could use a PowerPoint to convey information to students.

In 2010, I became a public school administrator.  As I reflect back on my experience, it is amazing at how much the access to technology has changed in a relatively short time.  We, students and adults alike, hold the world in the palm of our hand, by the way of a smartphone.  The convergence of a sequence of events, improved infrastructures, advancements in mobile devices (Chromebooks and iPads), and a technology integration support model, resulted in our students having more access to technology throughout the school day.  The traditional “Computer Class” or “Technology Class”, where students learned Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, became outdated.  As more devices became available, more students became proficient users due to access in and out of school, and more teachers integrated technology into their daily lessons, the skills once learned in isolation became a part of every class.

At Medway Middle School, we were fortunate to receive a grant, which kickstarted the transition of our technology education program.  We started by offering students in grades 7 and 8 the opportunity to take one of two Project Lead the Way (PLTW) offerings, Automation and Robotics or Design and Modeling, instead of the traditional technology education course.  Each year, we saw an increase in enrollment and many students elected to take the two-year sequence.  We observed students who were more engaged and learning different skills than in the past; they were collaborating, problem-solving, and taking risks.  Students who struggled in the traditional classroom, excelled in tasks that were hands-on, with real-world applications.  Although we saw an increase in the number of students, we did see a disparity in the number of female students electing the PLTW courses.  This helped us see the need to provide all students, not just the ones who may have an interest or a family who knew the value of the a less traditional technology class, the opportunity to participate in a pre-engineering program.  Once the 7th and 8th grade course sequence was implemented, the App Creator course was implemented in 6th grade.  

This year, I transitioned to a different district and I am the proud principal of Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington.  Burlington Public Schools have been leaders in technology in education and was the first public school district to implement a 1:1 iPad initiative in kindergarten through grade 12.  This year, our school is reviewing the master schedule and developing a program of studies.  As we continue to explore different schedule models, making sure our students have opportunities to learn 21st century skills, including coding, problem-solving, using the design process, and engineering is a priority. It is our intention to have a coordinated 3-year course sequence that will include computer science, technology, and engineering.  We do not yet have all the answers and we are always looking to the future, which is undetermined.

Cari Perchase  is the Principal of the Marshall Simonds Middle School and can be found at burlingtonpublicschools.org/schools/marshall-simonds-middle-school.