CATAWISSA RR - Technology continues to reign supreme this school year at Southern Columbia Area School District.

The district kicks off the 2014-15 school year today with a goal to "use technology to meet student needs and to enhance learning, communication and organization."

Each of the 1,423 students in the district will have his or her needs addressed using the flexibility of educational technology.

While last year the district embraced a "bring your own technology" standard, most students will now be provided with the equipment they need.

Students in eighth- through twelfth-grades will each be issued a laptop through the district's technology budget.

All high school students will be given an Acer TravelMate laptop for his or her own personal use.

District superintendent Paul Caputo said the students would be using a range of software on the computers, including digital "textbooks."

"Instead of issuing textbooks, the teacher will develop a platform or course content base and the students will log on to the site and access course material there," said Caputo.

The district currently uses the free open-source learning platform Moodle. Caputo said the district is also looking at adding other platforms to distribute information to students.

Quizzes and tests are also made easier through the programs.

"The turn around and feedback time in many cases can be much quicker," said Caputo.

Caputo also said the district wants to embrace this type of technology for students in all grades.

This year students in eighth-grade and the approximately 25 students in seventh-grade who are enrolled in algebra I will receive a Samsung Chromebook.

Students in all grades will have the option of taking their laptops home for a small fee calculated on a sliding scale determined on if the student receives free or reduced lunch.

The fee ranges from free to $25 for students who pay full-price for lunch. It covers maintenance and replacement, including physical damage from accidents.

Additional laptop carts were purchased for fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grades that will be shared among teams of teachers. Second, third- and fourth-grade classrooms had additional stationary computers added.

iPads for younger students

Kindergarten and first-grade classrooms will be making the biggest leap in technology use as Apple iPads will be integrated into the curriculum.

Each classroom will have about a dozen iPads to use among approximately 22 students.

Caputo said educational apps designed to teach phonics, math, pronunciation, voice inflection and other essential skills would be added to the iPads for the students to use.

As part of "learning blocks," the students will break into small groups and individually or collectively use the iPads in learning stations.

"At some point, they'll eventually rotate to the teacher and they'll receive either small group or one-on-one time with the instructor," said Caputo.

STEM, college courses

Technology will also be integrated into the curriculum through new courses.

Students in eighth-grade now have the option of taking the "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and math) course, which integrates each of these subjects into project-based lessons demonstrating technology and its impact on society.

Eighth-graders will also be offered a "Futures" course, which will allow them to explore their interests and related careers.

High school students who will be juniors during the 2014-15 school year will have an opportunity to participate in Bloomsburg University's STEM Magnet Program.

As part of this program, students will become part of a two-year cohort of students who will attend Bloomsburg University part of the day, this year and next.

They will earn 15 college credits each year with studies focused on either engineering or a health science.

Two students are currently enrolled in this initiative.

Staying on track

Teachers will connect with students using technology through new programs that analyze student data to chart assessments and progress.

Data meetings will be scheduled at regular intervals throughout the year for teachers to discuss student progress and create plans of action. To allow for these meetings, classes will operate on a two-hour delay schedule four times, with teachers arriving at their regularly scheduled time to study data, discuss the placement of students and prepare research-based instructional strategies.

Teachers began using Sapphire as its student information system last year. The program includes functions such as Individual Education Programs (IEP) writing and student health reporting.

Building on last year

The district, which has a history of embracing technology, ramped up its efforts to bring technology to students last year with new laptops, software and courses related to business technology.

The move preceded a jump in Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exam scores.

The district saw increases in nine testing categories, including a 25-percent gain in fifth-grade writing.

Caputo credits initiatives using data analysis, as well as excellent staff and students, for the uptick in scores.

He said the staff has been essential in ensuring new technology is integrated smoothly into the classroom.

"We have a culture of technology use in the district, and the various tools that have been introduced were successful because they've been backed by professional development," said Caputo. "Any technology initiatives have to be supported by proper training and support, and the district has a long-standing history of that."