BUFFALO, W.Va. -- In the fall of 2012, students in Terri Withrow's anatomy class at Buffalo High School were presented with a problem: outside workers at West Virginia American Water were experiencing a high number of shoulder injuries on the job -- something the company wanted to prevent.
The solution? After weeks of research and planning, the class discovered that the median age of WVAM's workers meant that they were more prone to hurting themselves, and even developed special ground mats and pads to even the ground and lessen the strain on workers trying to open pipes or water mains.
"They were so impressed by what my students did that they actually paid to have all 17 kids go to their headquarters to present for their senior managers," Withrow said. "They were just wowed by what the kids had done."
According to Withrow, WVAM has invested in developing and producing the products her students worked so hard on.
The methods were like those in any science class she has taught at BHS over the past 14 years, but the project's success was possible because students were constantly engaged in the process -- something Withrow thinks was made possible by Buffalo's 1-to-1 student-to-device ratio.
"I don't know if it would have interested them as much if the technology hadn't been involved, because of the speed at which they could access information," Withrow said. "They could ask questions -- it was completely driven by the students and what they needed to know.
"And often, the tech provided instantaneous answers for them, as well as ideas for new questions. They didn't need days and days to research something -- it was right there for them."
The new Buffalo High School is in its second school year, and thanks to a state grant, county funds and a national partnership, it has been able to provide laptops to each of its 345 students for classroom use.
According to principal Richard Grim, the idea for the initiative began four years ago, after the state's next generation grant search prompted the school to look into ways it could introduce technology into its curriculum. School administrators were introduced to the New Tech Network at a conference, and eventually entered into a partnership with the non-profit, which provides teaching tools and project-based leaning to teachers and schools across the country.
"I use the tech 100 percent of the time -- in my assessments, journaling -- everything is done on a computer," Withrow said. "That doesn't mean we have a computer up all the time."
The school's online learning platform, Echo, is provided through NTN, and allows teachers, parents and students to log on to view their grades, assignments, supplemental reading and reference tools from the classroom or at home. The school operates under Putnam County's policies governing acceptable use of technology, but Grim said the school still has a few issues surrounding what students are able to access.
"You've always got that -- we try to keep an eye on it, but they've got ways to get past the filters, but we eventually catch them," he said. "We treat it like any other classroom disruption, and the most common punishment is to take their computer away for a day or a week or whatever. Most don't like to lose their computer, because it affects the way they can do their work."
For physical sciences teacher Janice Luikart, the technology in her classroom has allowed her to transform her assignments into involved projects. Luikart's classes are currently working on a project called "Bison Amusement Park," where groups of students develop and build small-scale roller coasters that can successfully transport a marble from the starting point to the end of the coaster.
"Power Points and all of their notes are right there at the click of a button," she said. "Any labs or practice problems they need are right there, as well as the rubric for what they're going to be judged on. They did brainstorming, they had to turn in a plan, an estimate, then they looked up ideas -- they've been printing out and cutting out extra things to add to them. It's been like designing a King's Island ride."
The shift to New Tech Network was voted on by the BHS faculty, and according to Grim, the school needed to receive 80 percent approval to move forward; it got 100 percent. There were still some teachers who were reluctant to implement it -- each teacher at the school can choose how much time he or she spends using technology -- but for Withrow, the choice was obvious.
"There has been a change in students and how they learn, and I have had to learn to communicate in terms of how they learn, so it has been a challenge for me, as a facilitator, to figure out how they communicate," Withrow said. "I've been teacher here for 14 years, and I've rarely had a student ask me a question in class, but with all of the snow days we've had, I had one morning that, at 6:30 a.m., my phone lit up with students asking me questions. So much so that my husband asked, 'what is wrong with your phone?'"
Putnam County Schools has implemented a BYOD, "or bring your own device" pilot program in all of its schools this year, and school Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said he hopes the policy will be fully implemented by the end of the year.
The initiative is still in its pilot stage this semester, but Kara Brown, an 11th grade American literature teacher at Winfield High School, said she thinks allowing smartphones, laptops and tablets in her classroom will only serve to aid her students' learning. That's why she volunteered to participate in the pilot; all three of her 30-student classes are allowed to bring their own devices to school.
"Some teachers have the opinion that school isn't supposed to fun, because they're here to learn, but I hope that this will be able to do both," Brown said. "By the time students are in the 11th grade, they're sort of like the middle child. Seniors are excited and it's a great year, and ninth graders are excited because they're in high school and it's something new, but by the time they're in 11th grade, you can see it -- they're bored. They've done it before.
"My biggest hope would be that you can actually show them how many resources are there. They look at their smartphone as a way to text. My goal is to show them the resources they can actually use that will last beyond the 11th grade."
Brown has set up a Google email address for each of her students through the school, and her students use Google Drive, one of its many features, to write, peer edit and turn in papers. She also encourages them to use online resources like www.easybib.com, which helps generate citations for research papers, and to search for definitions and supplemental source material online.
"I'll say, 'well, there's a really good poem that illustrates this literary term, but it's not in the book, so everyone look up this poem by so-and-so,' and they have it on-hand," she said.
According to Hatfield, the BYOD policy will always be elective, and teachers can choose not to allow students to have devices in the classroom. Datacom, a Cincinnati-based IT consulting firm that has partnered with Putnam County Schools since last February, is in the process of developing a cloud-based curriculum for schools based on teacher recommendations. Cloud-based curricula are entirely online, rather than saved to a hard drive or CD, and will allow students to access e-Books, course materials and online reference tools.Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.