Taking Technology to Its Limit: This Ohio District Leverages Multiple Computing Tools and Robust Social Media to Engage Students-And the Community-In Education

Article excerpt

Technology is so prevalent today, why not engage students in school with the same interactive devices and communication tools they love using? That's the approach the Princeton City (Ohio) School District is taking as it employs a dizzying number of technology devices, software programs, and social media platforms to complement classroom instruction, homework, and extracurricular activities, and bring together students, teachers, counselors and families in a virtual community that increases support, accountability, and ultimately student success.

Teachers like Shawn McMullen, a technology specialist for grades 6 through 12, has student interns use "a vast array of technology every single day"--iPads, handheld cameras, and editing programs like iMovie and Adobe Premiere--to record and edit photos and videos used to create advertising collateral like newsletters and brochures for the district.

Lindsay Holliday teaches art at Princeton High School, where students' favorite art-making apps include Sketchbook Pro, Art Rage and PS Touch, and apps for learning and reference in photography classes. Her AP Studio Art students also use the presentation program Prezi--a more visual version of the presentation software, PowerPoint--to create presentations while on site at field trips to Ohio's Taft Museum of Art.

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Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Txtwire--a direct text messaging service that predates Twitter and can be used to push instant information to specific groups--are used when the district's news needs to be spread fast, like sports scores, curricular topics, updates on school construction, and student celebrations. "I feel that Princeton is extremely groundbreaking in this area," says William T. Sprankles III, Princeton's grades 6-12 central principal. "It is very important for schools to communicate through whatever is the most popular and effective social media platform for their community."

The Shift

Princeton is one of Ohio's most diverse districts and comprises six taxing municipalities situated in a major entertainment and business area. With more than 35 languages spoken in district schools, it's on its way to becoming a 30/30/30 district where African American, white, and Hispanic/Latino students are represented equally, and 10 percent of students are of other ethnicities and races. Notably, Princeton High School hosts one of only 22 International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programmes in Ohio and has graduated more than 125 students with IB diplomas. The district has also produced 20 National Merit Scholars in the last five years, and the high school has a graduation rate of 94 percent for African American students.

As recent as five years ago, the technology landscape at the Princeton district in Sharonville, five miles north of Cincinnati, focused on adding technology to every classroom. "Everyone had computers, everyone had the hardware," says Amy Crouse, the district's associate superintendent. But those computers were only for teacher use, and there was "no true training to use it properly with their students," she says.

Since 2010-2011, more than $600,000 has been invested in providing hardware for all teachers and for students to access technology like iPads, iPod Touches, and AppleTV, which is Apple's digital media server to stream pictures and key videos displayed on television. That strategy "is about shifting to comprehensive technology," says Superintendent Gary Pack.

In the last year, the district spent $450,000 for K8 teachers to receive MacBook Pro laptops, and in 2013-2014, it will spend another $300,000 for grades 9-12 teachers to receive them. "Now, it's about [implementing technology] in the entire district, in all capacities," says Pack, like smartboards that have also been installed in every core teacher's classroom.

Starting in 2013-2014, middle school students will enter a wireless building with classrooms offering a 1:3 ratio of technology, and instructional design that Sprankles says will "foster collaboration, and prepare students for a 1:1 culture at the high school level. …