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7/24/2017 | TACOMA, Washington
The minute families started streaming into Gray Middle School, they could tell they were in for something spectacular.
Students beamed as they stood by rows of booths with laptops, tablets and poster boards on display. Guests viewed student presentations and stepped into student-run technology zones, where they learned to code and play the educational computer game MinecraftEdu.
The Technology and Innovation Showcase Night at Gray Middle School, held in May, looked like a traditional school open house—with a twist. The night revolved around students showing family and community members how they use technology every day in school to boost their learning.
"Throughout the year, our central question as a staff has been 'how are we leveraging technology to impact student learning?' " Principal Shaun Martin said. "This was an opportunity to show how that was put into practice."
Technology plays a crucial role in schools across Tacoma. Thanks to voter support for a four-year, $10 million-a-year technology levy passed in 2014, schools across the district receive equipment in their classrooms such as laptops, tablets and large interactive display screens.
Tacoma Public Schools also provides training for teachers on best practices for using technology to advance student learning.
At the Gray Technology Showcase Night, student Vinaja Ferrer showed an online presentation about nuclear power created by using the presentation tool Microsoft Sway, which allows users to tell a visual story online.
"This night is amazing because everyone has to share the project they're most proud of," Vinaja said. "In science class we're studying the climate. I picked nuclear power because I wanted to do something different than wind and solar. My favorite technology to use in school is Sway and 3D Paint."
Gray Middle School kicked its technology focus into high gear this year, applying to become a Microsoft Showcase School—a designation bestowed on only a handful of schools across the country. Gray hopes to continue this fall as a Showcase School.
Gray teachers focused on integrating technology into the classroom. All teachers participated in the Microsoft Education Community, where they earned certificates for online training on school technology tools such as Sway or organization tool Microsoft OneNote.
Teachers launched friendly competitions over who could earn the most Microsoft Educator Community badges—resulting in teachers decorating their classroom doors with all the badges they earned. As badges went up, students knew their teachers were learning, too. They got excited about attending a school with an emphasis on technology.
Gray's focus on technology boosted learning in many areas. Four sixth-grade girls earned the opportunity to present a computer application they built at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle. Other Gray students swept the awards at the annual MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Sciences Achievement) Day competition at Pacific Lutheran University.
Martin says Gray has placed a special emphasis on closing the technology gender gap and trying to interest girls in activities like learning computer coding. This summer, the school offered a Tech Leadership Camp for students interested in becoming technology mentors for other students in the coming school year. Two-thirds of the enrollees were girls.
Social Studies teacher Sue Coley said that at the beginning of the year, she felt uncertain about the technology emphasis.
"At the first technology team meeting I understood maybe one-third of the vocabulary," Coley said. "But with the Microsoft Educator Community you can train at your own pace. You can review it as many times as you want without embarrassing yourself in front of others!"
After going through the training sessions, Coley enjoyed adding technology elements to her classroom. Her students excelled at Sway presentations. Coley felt more comfortable using technology to communicate with parents, keeping them updated about homework and assignments.
The atmosphere at Gray was festive during Technology Showcase Night, as families ate complimentary pizza and sandwiches and the student band serenaded guests.
A video crew of middle and high school students traversed the halls, interviewing students and guests.
In one corner of the building, student Zion Smith showed her family a Sway presentation she made for incoming fifth-graders to teach them what they need to know about Gray Middle School.
"It's all about Pilot Pride. We're respectful, responsible, safe and kind," she stated on her first slide, before going into details about school supplies, homework and lunch rules.
Zion's aunt Lydia O'Connor walked away from the event impressed with the skills of her niece and other students.
"This event proves how technology in schools is shifting," she said. "Everyone says, 'Oh, students are just playing video games,' but obviously they aren't. Tonight they showed us well-researched, well-designed presentations that are preparing them for the corporate world."
Zion says she likes using technology in school to create presentations, research online, and check her grades online. It also helps her with a skill that eludes even some adults—good organization.
"We have access to more resources, and it's more fun," she said. "It's also helpful because we can send our papers in online on OneNote and our teachers can see it. It's easier because we never lose the papers and our teachers can give notes back online."
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...
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