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Castle Dome class learning through technology
[January 30, 2013]

Castle Dome class learning through technology

Jan 30, 2013 (The Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- "Where there's a Web, there's a way." That is Cary Fields' classroom philosophy, anyway.

It's also the name of her proposal recently approved for the 2013 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, allowing for her and a group of her Advanced Language Arts students to present their digital portfolios at the event in June.

While Castle Dome Middle School recently switched over to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, Fields said she had already been using a great deal of technology in her classroom on campus in an attempt to "meet the kids where they're at." The BYOD policy, which Fields played a part in authoring, allows students to turn their own personal digital devices into learning tools in the classroom.

"I need to be on the top of my game all the time; my students deserve that from me," she said of being forward thinking about integrating technology into the classroom. "They're exceptional, they deserve the best -- all students do." In addition to wanting to make learning relevant to students, she said that using technology has helped her to get more content to students beyond the classroom as it is sometimes difficult to fit everything into a single class period.

Students use laptops; iPads; iPods; Apple TV; Promethean technology, interactive white boards; and a multitude of free, online resources to learn, create, communicate, write, read and collaborate with each other and the world, said Fields.

"We can show and document the learning digitally in meaningful regardless of what tools they have, like this iPad 2," she said as she pointed to the device, "I don't care how awesome it is, I care what you can create with it. Just like a pencil, it's nothing until you pick it up and do something with it." While the school does not have a device for every student to use at once, Fields said they use whatever hardware they have.

Through professional development and trainings that she has led, she is helping other teachers at Castle Dome make the transition to an online and more technological learning environment in the classroom.

She said every student in her class has their own web page through and that allow students to share blog posts, showcase their assignments and work together on projects.

Fields said that while the students' individual Weebly website pages are open to the public, they make sure not to share any personal information to protect student privacy. Through their Edmodo profiles, which are similar to Facebook pages, their information can be made private so students can do things like information and videos with one another as well as take quizzes and submit homework in a safe environment, she said.

Fields said that with many high schools already using Edmodo and other technology to communicate and complete assignments, she feels her requirements in the classroom will help students be ahead of the curve.

Pending board approval and fundraising for the trip to ISTE, she said, students will share their digital portfolios on an international stage, reflecting back on their journey through eighth grade. In addition to making a name for Yuma, it will also be a great way to share resources and examples of how the technology is being used in a real, live classroom, she said.

The plan is to raise $7,000 throughout the spring to allow at least 10 students to attend the conference in San Antonio.

Eighth-grade student Garrett Ruby, 13, said that when Fields told the class at the beginning of the school year that she was going to do everything in her power to make sure that the class had the opportunity to present at ISTE in the summer, he thought it was too good to be true.

"Truthfully, I didn't believe her at the beginning of the year ... But then she posted about it and I jumped up and went outside. I was so happy." He said he enjoys using more technology in the classroom and that school isn't just pencil and paper anymore. While they're still required to read things aloud, he feels more comfortable writing his thoughts through a blog format.

"It's just different and it's more fun," he said, noting that he also enjoys being able to customize his website and make them his own.

Eden Gundersen, 13, said she enjoys collaborating with her classmates outside of school with the use of technology.

"I have to admit, it's really interesting. Instead of just looking through a book and writing something, you can go online and friends can give you constructive criticism." She added that technology can also prove very useful, like when Fields records her lessons and posts them online so that students can go back through them if there was an important point that they missed.

Mary Fossum, 13, agreed and said that using a computer to complement learning is much more interesting to her as a student.

"I think that all students kind of enjoy it because when teachers say open up the book to page whatever, students are just like, 'OK, I'm going to go to sleep now.' But when they tell us to turn on the iPad and go here it, brings it more to the kids level and they enjoy it more and learn better." To donate or learn more about the school's technology in education initiatives, call Castle Dome Principal Lori Sheffield at 502-7300.

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