Story by Christina Hedding
At the April Board of Education meeting for the Florida Union Free School District several teachers and students gave presentations on the use of technology to aid in learning. Dana Castine, the Director of Science and Technology, welcomed the community and spoke about some of the programs being implemented in classrooms at both S.S. Seward Institute and Golden Hill Elementary. Castine spoke about the benefit of using Google apps like Google Slides and Google Docs as tools for collaboration, both in and outside of the classroom. She then presented a slide show created using Google Slides and demonstrated how many students can work on a project at once without having to meet in person.
Next, students from Ms. Noreen Meehan and Ms. Michele Riso’s fifth grade classes spoke about using these tech tools in their classrooms. The students talked about using Skype to communicate with and learn about classrooms across the country. They also enjoyed getting to use Google Chromebooks in their classrooms to play math games and access homework problems. One of the students spoke about a program called Zearn, where teachers can upload math problems for students to work on at home or on classroom computers. The program also helps students who miss a day of school not miss out on the material.
Another student spoke about how all the computers and Chromebooks the school uses have Google Safe Search which keeps students from playing games on the computers instead of doing work and prevents them from searching or finding anything that might be considered “mature content.” Overall, the use of Google devices and programs is expanding students’ ability to learn in and outside of the classroom.
Ms. Marisol Arcidiacono’s eighth grade students also shared their experience with technology in the classroom. The eighth grade students talked about using programs like Radis, which teaches real life applications of math and science to encourage students into tech and science careers. The program helps students see how the math they learn in school could be useful in a future career field. It also introduces students to careers they may not have known about before.
Another student spoke about the use of code.org in her class as well. The programs on code.org give students the chance to solve puzzles that help to solve a real-world problem. It provides them with hands-on learning and real-world applications.
High School Chemistry teacher Katie Hannon could not attend the presentation, but sent a video which Castine played for the Board. In her video, Hannon spoke about the use of Google Chromebooks as a tool to help further learning.
“Tech is a tool,” Hannon said. “Good teaching is still good teaching. Tech will not replace it, but can enhance it.” She continued to talk about Google apps as tools for collaboration and how using them can help students learn more in class. Hannon also mentioned the use of computers in preparing high school students for the challenges of college classrooms as online classes are often offered. She believes the use of tech like the Chromebooks in classrooms help prepare students for life after high school.
Ms. Wendy Anderson, Ms. Traice Moon and Ms. Jena Thomas’s tenth grade students shared their work using animation software and collaboration for their human rights class project. Ty Hicks and Holly Blumenberg shared their part of the “Genocide Project” with the Board and community. The project used an animation software called PowToons, which combines power point slides and animated graphics to create a video presentation. The students talked about how the program enabled them to be creative in their project and how they felt it helped them make a stronger impact versus using a typical power point format.
Lastly, Mr. Jeff Rodman and his students shared their experience using donated cardboard as building materials in their design class. Rodman talked about how the class began with six students who had an interest in learning building and design. He then sought a large donation of cardboard from Presidential Container in order to not break his budget. Since the cardboard was donated, the students had more opportunities to practice and could build more prototypes than if they were working with wood. This allowed them to create more and gain more practice. The students have currently designed several chairs, laptop desks, solar cookers, and even a couch.
Rodman also spoke about his other classes working with programs like CAD and 3D printing software to make 3D printed version of mechanical parts. Other classes used the 3D printing software to design their own object and by the end of the class all the students have designed and produced their own 3D object from scratch.
At the end of the presentations, Superintendent Jan Jehring thanked all the teachers and students for their hard work and talent in implementing technology in practical ways in the Florida UFSD classrooms.
Budget Discussion & Approval
The meeting then proceeded on to normal business with a final discussion on the 2017-18 proposed school budget. Jehring stated that the main goals in creating this year’s budget were to provide more opportunities for students and to be fiscally responsible. She added that they were not adding new opportunities, which would raise costs tremendously, but rather they were planning to enhance programs already in place to provide students with new opportunities such as new academic programing, educational technology and athletic opportunities. The budget will also cover the cost of professional development opportunities for teachers to enhance their abilities.
According to Jehring, the 2017-18 budget saw a two percent increase in spending over last year, but will still fall below the state tax cap at 1.77 percent increase. The total state aid will be $5,932,949 and the increase came from instruction costs, salaries, transportation, and increases in the cost of benefits for school district employees. The total budget for the 2017-18 school year will be $21,231,803. Andrew Cameron, assistant director of operations, spoke about how the 2017-18 budget needs only 50 plus one percent of the vote in order to pass, as this year they were not attempting to pierce the tax cap like they tried to last year; which required 60 percent of the vote to pass.
Jehring opened the floor to questions and public comment regarding the budget. No one had any questions and so the Board put the proposed budget to a vote. The Board voted to adopt the proposed 2017-18 budget of $21,231,803. The Florida UFSD budget vote will be held on Tues., May 16.
The next meeting of the Florida UFSD Board of Education will be held on Thurs., May 18 in the S.S. Seward Memorial building, located at 51 N. Main St. in Florida.