The State Office of Education announced Tuesday that it will award seven grants totaling $375,250 to schools and districts this year based on their proposals to develop innovative uses of technology. The winners were chosen from more than 400 proposals for the cash, which is part of the state superintendent's discretionary money.
The idea is that the winners will spend the rest of this year trying out their ideas, and state education officials might make recommendations to the Legislature in 2012 on which projects should be expanded or continued.
"The superintendent is convinced that technology will play a key role in helping to keep Utah ready to compete, especially when you consider technology is a part of students' lives in their homes, but it isn't as much in schools," said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent. "They have good ideas and we're going to try them out."
One winning idea, for example, came from Viewmont Elementary kindergarten teacher Jennifer Lightfoot. She hopes to use $16,035 to buy 27 iPads for kindergartners to use in class. She plans to load the iPads with apps that students can use to practice reading and numeracy skills. Students will rotate through several centers where they will practice different skills with the iPads. She said kindergartners might use the iPads twice a week for about 40 minutes at a time.
Lightfoot said the iPads will give students at all levels the opportunity to participate in activities geared toward their individual needs.
"They can access the games easily, they're motivating, and I can use it on any level," she said. "We are raising students who will compete in a worldwide environment so they need to be able to be using the latest skills and technology."
Another winning proposal came from the Jordan district, which plans to use $150,000 largely to develop and pilot an electronic math textbook for ninth-graders next school year and to buy equipment for students to access it. The district hopes to develop the electronic textbook, or e-book, with the Utah Education Network using district-created material and open-source material, which anyone can use for free, said the district's Janene Bowen. The e-book will be based on new Common Core math standards, which all Utah schools will be implementing in the next few years.
The district still is working on the details of who will use the e-book and how, but it is something that eventually could go statewide depending on how it works in Jordan.
Bowen, who helped work on the grant application, said the idea was to get a start on implementing Common Core standards for ninth-graders by developing a textbook that reflects them.
"An electronic textbook is very innovative, especially in our current economic situation where we don't have a lot of money for professional development and materials," Hales said. "They do the work to develop it, and the rest of the state benefits."
Jennifer Lightfoot, kindergarten teacher at Viewmont Elementary in Murray • $16,035 to buy iPads for kindergartners to use in class to practice individual literacy and numeracy skills.
Alpine Elementary and Traverse Mountain Elementary • $43,532 for an initiative in which regular and special education students will share, edit, compare and practice math and reading skills. Parents will be able to use the same technology at home that students and teachers use.
Parkside Elementary School in Murray • $50,000 to create a library of video podcasts of effective teachers demonstrating quality instruction. The podcasts could be used by teachers, students and parents.
Piute High School in Junction• $43,000 to move to technology-driven classrooms. The district also will put money toward the project until all students have individual access to technology.
Canyons School District • $48,120 to use data to make decisions to help students at risk of academic failure. Educators will use technology to keep assessment data, give students immediate feedback and adjust instruction.
Iron County School District and Southwest Educational Development Center • $24,563 to use technology to enhance math instruction for at-risk students, focusing on third-graders at three schools.
Jordan School District • $150,000 to work with the Utah Education Network to develop an electronic math textbook for ninth-graders reflecting the new Common Core standards; to buy equipment so students can access the electronic textbook; and for educator training.