With $8.3 million tech grant, Fairmont works toward upgrades

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Photo: Sam Barton

A small group of freshmen English students collaborate on a project in the 21st Century Classroom. Fairmont plans to make some of this classroom’s technology available in the library and the FIC.

By Luke Sheidler, Sports Editor

If Fairmont students think technology has been moving quickly at the high school in recent years, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Thanks to an $8.3 million grant, students will soon begin seeing numerous technology changes at a pace unlike anything they’ve seen in a school setting, and both students and staff will have to adapt rapidly.

Over the summer, Kettering City Schools received the multimillion dollar “Straight A” grant from the Ohio Department of Education and Gov. John Kasich, and the district is wasting no time in putting the money to use.

“The state’s ‘Straight A’ program is meant to encourage school districts to try innovative things that they can sustain,” Fairmont High School Principal Dan VonHandorf said. “In the Kettering City School District, they are using the grant to introduce new technology at the high school and the middle schools.”

Not only did the Kettering City School District receive the grant, but it was one of the few districts to receive such a substantial amount. “There were over 300 applications for the grant,” Fairmont Technology Coordinator Kim Broomhall said. “Our district was one of the 37 applicants accepted.”

Library and FIC renovations

Because of the grant, students will have access to new resources and technologies similar to those found in the 21st Century Classroom, which has revolutionized the learning experience at Fairmont with its advanced technology. This special classroom, located in Central Unit, was new in the fall of 2013 and is the most tech-savvy room in all of Fairmont High School.

“One thing that we are working on is renovation in the library and FIC areas,” VonHandorf said. “The 21st Century Classroom spurred the idea that there should be more rooms like that.”

Broomhall, whose office is now located in the 21st Century Classroom, agrees. “The teamwork and collaboration in the 21st Century Classroom is really huge, which is why the FIC is going to be redesigned to have equipment from the classroom.”

The technology found in Fairmont’s 21st Century Classroom will also be introduced into the Kettering middle schools. “The idea is that this room is going to be recreated in every one of the school buildings,” Broomhall said.

A Chromebook for every student

Other than the renovations taking place in the library and the FIC, there is an even more direct way this grant will affect students: individual Chromebooks.

“The second impact is putting technology into students’ hands,” VonHandorf said. “Eventually, every Fairmont High School student will have a Chromebook to use during their career at Fairmont.”

These chromebooks will aid teachers by making it easier to teach the wide variety of  students in the classroom and to help students get comfortable with more technology.

“The grant will help support teachers by making it easier to meet the needs of all diverse learners,” Secondary Curriculum Coordinator Sherri Alexander said. “It will enable them to create learning environments that will better support and prepare students for learning beyond high school graduation.”

Using their Chromebooks on a regular basis will benefit students who have to take the Common Core exams, since those exams are all taken on computers. “The grant will enable teachers to teach the technology skills students need in order to succeed on the test,” Alexander said.

Flipped classrooms and other innovations

Of course, the teachers must also adapt to the new wave of technology.

“We are doing a lot of training with teachers on how to use technology in the classroom,” VonHandorf said. “For example, Mr. [Jeff] McManus and Mr. [Steve] Hippenmeyer have led the transition into a ‘flipped classroom’ that focuses more towards technology, and they feel that this has revolutionized teaching.”

Hippenmeyer, a Fairmont chemistry teacher, is currently in his second year of using the “flipped” classroom model, and he says he feels this is an effective way of teaching and learning.

“In this model, students watch videos from other chemistry teachers on the concepts that will be covered in class the following day,” Hippenmeyer said, explaining students view the videos at home. “This helps the students learn at their own rates, students who are absent can catch up faster than usual, and it saves significant amounts of class time.”

The next day, Hippenmeyer can continue to teach the concept or use class time to have students working on problems or “homework” while he is available to circulate and help them.

Not only has the flipped model changed the classroom, Hippenmeyer said it has had an effect on the students’ grades, too.

“After introducing the flipped classroom, I saw a dramatic increase of students receiving A’s and B’s,” he said. “The number of students failing chemistry has dropped as well.”

This new approach also seems to be widely accepted among Hippenmeyer’s students. “The majority of students last year felt the videos were quite helpful in the flipped model,” Hippenmeyer said. “It served as a crutch for those students who encountered concept difficulty.”

The influx of technology also will make it easier for the students to access their materials. “This year, teachers have been going more into online textbooks,” Broomhall said. “This new way of instructional delivery is more efficient and marks the new wave of technology.”

As that wave of technology crashes over Fairmont, the administration is encouraging both students and teachers to dive into everything the Straight A grant is bringing to Fairmont — and to not worry about getting a little wet during the learning process.