Rock Hill school board hears ‘iRock’ concerns

dworthington@heraldonline.comFebruary 11, 2013 

— Teams of pToolsMeasureOptions leaders evaluating Rock Hill schools’ efforts to put a computer in the hands of every student in the district asked a series of questions at Monday’s school board meeting – questions board members said need answering before they approve the proposal.

The “iRock” initiative has been presented as a way to take education in Rock Hill schools to a new level, giving teachers new tools and skills. It is based on each student having a computer device that can be used in the classroom and at home.

Equipping students with computers would allow the district to fully implement challenge-based learning, a collaborative learning experience between teachers and students. The approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions. Proponents of the plan say it would help Rock Hill students be better prepared to meet state common core testing standards.

The school board appointed five teams to evaluate the plan proposed by Superintendent Lynn Moody. The teams presented their initial findings at Monday’s work session.

Questions generally fell into four categories: operation and care of the computer devices, professional development for teachers, how the results of the program would be measured, and how best to inform the community, not just parents of students, about the proposal.

Northwestern High chemistry teacher Jeff Venables presented concerns voiced by his colleagues. School board members said having teaching support for the initiative is essential.

Venables said teachers liked the idea of everyone using the same type of computer. He stressed that teacher training was essential both before and after launching the program. Venables said teachers were concerned there would be a “gotcha” factor if they did not implement the computer-based instruction in their classroom fast enough.

Venables said teachers also are concerned that managing technology in the classroom could “make teachers’ jobs more difficult.” As planned, students are supposed to “manage” their own computers.

Venables and others stressed the need for technical support. School board members agree the plan can’t go forward without adequate technical support.

Marshall Jones, a Winthrop University education professor who led the evaluation team, said teachers don’t have to “know everything about technology. You have to know about learning. The job is not about becoming technicians.”

Teachers also asked how the proposal would affect the budget and what cuts might be made move forward with the iRock initiative.

Venables said some elementary school teachers are concerned that the amount of “screen time” would cut into the time they spend on socialization skills and nurturing.

Gary Williams, head of the finance and resources committee, said the school board may want to consider discounted fees for parents with multiple children needing computer devices. As proposed the rental fee would be $85. Williams said many families are overwhelmed with a variety of school expenses at the start of the year and an additional $85 fee might need to spread out over the school year.

The school board and district administrators will work to answer these questions in the coming weeks before the board will vote on the iRock plan.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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