Watertown-Mayer hosts more than 20 districts for iPad seminar

It was only about a year ago that the Watertown-Mayer School District was in the research faze when it came to technology in the classroom, frequently visiting and consulting with other districts to find out not only how those districts made use of their 1-to-1 technology initiatives, but also how similar programs could best be implemented in Watertown.

With that time frame in mind, it’s amazing how fast the pupil has become the teacher.

Last year’s roles were completely reversed on Wednesday, March 13, when Watertown-Mayer staff and students hosted more than 80 administrators and teachers from roughly 25 districts from across the state for a seminar designed to provide information on implementing a 1-to-1 technology initiative.

With the visitors split into two sessions — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — Watertown-Mayer administrators and students shared their own experiences with implementing a student iPad program at the start of this year in effort to help other districts better understand if a similar program might be right for them. The visitors listened to a presentation from Watertown-Mayer administrators, toured several classrooms in order to get a feel for how the devices are being used, and listened to a panel of students give candid feedback on how they feel the program is being utilized.

“It’s nice to give back,” Watertown-Mayer superintendent Dave Marlette said of the event. “We went and visited so many other districts and learned so much from them, so this was our opportunity to give back to other districts. I heard nothing but positive comments, which makes you very proud.”

When it comes to technology in the classroom, Watertown-Mayer is quickly becoming something of the leader in the area. While the district is far from the first to implement a 1-to-1 technology initiative — a reference to every student being paired with a digital device — it certainly is ahead of the curve, and certainly among smaller, rural districts. Director of teaching and learning Scott Fitzsimonds said it was a source of pride for the district to see so many districts show up last week with an interest in pursuing a program Watertown-Mayer is already using.

“We went from being very behind in technology to being on that leading edge, along with a number of other districts,” Fitzsimonds said. “That does feel good.”

Watertown-Mayer was asked to provide presentations at several major conference recently, including the rural education conference, the state school board association conference, and the state principals conference. It was during those presentations that Marlette said he truly began to get a sense of just how much interest there was in learning more about 21st-century education, and noted that he wasn’t surprised by how many different district’s turned out for last week’s seminar.

“At the school board association conference, we gave our presentation in a room that holds about 70 people,” Marlette said. “I’ve been to a lot of those types of things, and the room is usually barely half full. When we held our seminar, the room was packed. There were people standing in the doorway and in the hallway, and we probably had about 150 people listen to that presentation. That tells me there is a lot of interest out there in other districts.”

Marlette said the decision was made to dedicate a single day to hosting other districts in order to minimize disruptions. He said other districts expressed interest in visiting during the various conferences, but that can obviously become tedious if each district is accommodated on its own.

Last week’s session started with a presentations from both Marlette and Fitzsimonds. Both stressed that there is no single correct way to implement such an initiative, but Marlette also emphasized to those in attendance that no matter how they choose to implement a program or which device they ultimately use, it’s important they don’t hold anything back.

“You have to make a decision that if you go this route, you’re all in,” Marlette told the group, some of which came from several hours away. “You have to do the things where you can make a difference in academics for all kids. Otherwise, it’s just an awfully fancy tool. … If you just do it to replace paper, then it’s an awfully expensive No. 2 pencil.”

Following the presentations from Marlette and Fitzsimonds, the visiting teachers and administrators spent time touring several classrooms. Participants had their choice to either stay and visit middle or high school classrooms, or be bussed to the elementary school and primary school to visit classes there.

After those class visits, the participants were able to visit with a small group of students who shared their own opinions on the program and answered questions from the visitors. For the most part, the students seemed to favor the program, citing the ease of communication with teachers and easier access to assignments and resources.

Madeline Peterson, a seventh grader, told the group that it wasn’t much of an adjustment for students to get used to a totally new way of operating in the classroom.

“I think it makes it easier,” Peterson said of the program. “We’re technological kids. We’re in the 21st century, so we know all this stuff already. We know how to work it.”

Afterward, Marlette said one of the most frequent questions he received from visiting administrators is how the district got the community on board with the program. He said those types of questions showed just how supportive he believes the Watertown and Mayer communities are of the local schools.

“Our community here is just amazing how they’ve supported us on this,” Marlette said. “I think we should be very proud of our community, how they feel about the district and how they’re supporting us.”

Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]