Navajo Elementary ready for high-tech face-lift - East Valley Tribune: News

Navajo Elementary ready for high-tech face-lift

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Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2008 12:54 am | Updated: 10:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Robotics clubs. Hands-on science lessons. And laptops in the hands of every student - which most kids will be able to take home.

Scottsdale's Navajo Elementary School is getting ready for a technology transformation, one that could also include a $1 million grant.

Navajo is reinventing itself as a school focused on science, technology, engineering, math and geography, Principal Shaun Holmes said. The desire to change came after other schools in the area started redefining their identities and Navajo wanted to find its niche.

"The world of science and technology is going to be at the forefront for solving a number of issues in this world we're going to face in the future," Holmes said. And by getting kids excited about the subjects through hands-on science and technology activities, students will get a solid base in those areas, he added.

That focus means Navajo will still teach state standards, but from a math, science and technology perspective, Holmes said. So when kids are required to write a persuasive essay, they might be required to pick a science-related topic.

There are three major parts to the plan, Holmes said, which will be implemented as soon as the school can get the resources and partnerships lined up.

Navajo is working to solidify a partnership with Arizona State University that will bring graduate students into the classroom to run hands-on labs and extracurricular activities, like a robotics club, he said.

The school also wants to hire a science teacher who can work with other instructors on the campus to develop high-level math and science lessons.

And then there's the biggest part: immersing students in technology, including a "one-to-one" laptop program, which means a computer for each of the school's almost 500 kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

"What is (the students') world outside of school? It's computers. It's the Internet. It's iPods. It's any number of technological gadgets that kids are drawn to," Holmes said. "If that's what they're drawn to and you can teach the curriculum through that, you've gone a long way to capture and keep their interest and, theoretically, help them achieve more academically."

That component could happen this fall. Navajo is one of five finalists for a technology grant through the Arizona Department of Education, a grant that Holmes said "fits nicely with what we're trying to do."

The grant's winner will get $1 million over the course of three years to implement a technology program, so long as the Legislature continues to fund the grant.

If Navajo does get the money, it would cover interactive white boards and accessories, electronic voting systems and amplification systems for every classroom and laptops for every student, Holmes said. Several of those items would be covered anyway through a capital override voters passed in 2007, but the grant would let Navajo get a head start, Holmes said.

Plus, $250,000 of the award would be earmarked for two instructional technology specialists to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons.

"It's one thing to provide teachers with a lot of really useful tech and provide students access. ... It's another thing to be able to use it effectively in an academic environment," Holmes said. "(Technology) should be used to have a positive effect on academic achievement and be used in the classroom to be a means to an end."

The grant would also fund individual laptops at the elementary level two years after voters rejected the original version of that override, which was criticized for earmarking funds to buy take-home laptops for all of the Scottsdale Unified School District's high school students.

Both Holmes and district technology director Ernie Nicely said they didn't think Navajo's plan would get the same push-back.

"The objection before was using tax money to do this," Nicely said. "Using grant money, I think that puts a different spin on it. I'm not using your money to equip someone else's child, if you will."

And this is a chance to show voters what laptops can do in students' hands, Holmes said. "We can actually demonstrate a one-to-one program, which may actually impact the direction of one-to-one computing in education in the future," he said.

The school is looking at fairly inexpensive models of Asus laptops, Nicely said. They're ideal for kids because the hard drive storage space ranges between 2 and 8 gigabytes - low compared with today's standards, but enough storage space for a student, Nicely said. And that storage space means the hard drives are built more like USB memory sticks than moving disks, making them harder to break.

Each laptop would cost $400 to $500, depending on the software loaded on it, Holmes said. Students in third through sixth grade will likely be able to take the laptops home, but the school is still debating whether to let younger kids do the same.

If the plan goes through this year, Navajo would miss being the first Arizona elementary school with a "true" one-to-one laptop program by five days. Scales Elementary School in Tempe will be rechristened Scales Technology Academy this fall when school resumes Aug. 6 - the week before Scottsdale's Aug. 11 start date. Every Scales student will have a laptop as the result of an override voters passed in 2005, and older students will be able to take the computers home, said Tempe Elementary School District spokeswoman Monica Allread.

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