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West central Minnesota schools look to adapt to latest in digital technology

Kevin Brent, left, and Lori Sieg of Dawson-Boyd complete a session Monday on Google Docs as teachers from seven area school districts learn about digital technology. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

GRANITE FALLS -- Renville County West made itself a leader in the state when it gave every student in grades 4 through 12 an iPad at the start of the school year.

"I couldn't imagine going back,'' said RCW instructor Aimee Mooney, who uses the iPad to teach seventh- and eighth-grade math.

"Students are way, way more engaged,'' said Mooney.

She was among nearly 400 instructors at seven of the schools in the Minnesota River Valley Education District who gathered Monday at the Yellow Medicine East Schools in Granite Falls. The education district hosted an in-service for teachers looking to adapt the latest digital learning technologies, and to share their success and horror stories about them.

The star of the success stories is the iPad. Education district director Karen Jacobson originally planned to offer a "how to'' session in iPads at the start of the day, but interest proved too great for one session. Assistant Director Brandon Raymo had to split the duties and host separate classes.

Jacobson said the education district is working to help its member schools acquire technology for the classrooms, and select the best of it for their needs. There are over 500,000 different apps for the iPad alone, and many are education oriented, noted Raymo.

Students are quick to adapt the new technology, iPads in particular. Raymo told educators that his three-year-old daughter "takes it and runs with it.'' Mooney said she needed only four days to acquaint her seventh and eighth graders with the new technology; now it's a matter of keeping up with them.

The speed at which area district are adopting digital technology for education varies, according to Raymo. RCW and MACCRAY have taken the lead in iPads. YME has smart boards in every classroom.

Money is the biggest issue in how far schools go to adopt digital technology, but it's not the only one, said Raymo. Interest by teachers, administrators and others in a school community is very important too.

There is no doubt the interest is growing. Mooney said that when RCW instructors were recently given the last time slot to talk about iPads at a Minnesota School Boards Association event, they were warned. They might not have much of an audience at the end of the day.

Turned out, there were four people standing for every available chair and they had to turn lots of people away.

What really matters comes next, when students at RCW take tests that will allow for an assessment of their progress. "I'm very excited to see what happens with the tests,'' said Mooney.

Schools districts that are members of the MRVED are Benson, Dawson-Boyd, Lac qui Parle Valley, Lakeview, Montevideo, Ortonville and Yellow Medicine East. Benson did not participate in Monday's in-service.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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