The Parsippany Board of Education's Thursday meeting at Brooklawn Middle School featured the body's annual look at technology in the schools.
Barry Haines, the district's director of technology, offered a presentation on Par-Troy schools' 3-year plan for using computers and the Internet to boost student achievement.
Haines said the district had to consider a snapshot of current technology use, what needs teachers have for effective instructional technology and determine how to use these tools over the next three years.
He said the primary goal of using technology in schools is to produce effective learners who can cope with the demands of an ever-changing society.
Haines and a number of teachers from elementary, middle and high schools gave the audience a demonstration of various educational computer applications, most of them free, and how they are used in classrooms. Haines noted that the primary software system is Genesis, the database program "where everything starts." He said that this software, which collects student data drives many other educational operations, including transportation and the lunch program.
"If the information in Genesis is correct, we serve free and reduced price lunches correctly; they go to the library and check out books with Library World, because [the computers are] connected," he explained. "The technology is data driven and the data work together."
The primary purpose, the educators said, is to push common core standards. Haines noted that by 2015, standardized testing will be done by digital device instead of pencil and paper.
Haines said preparing technologically savvy students for an increasingly digital world requires teaching them "to produce and publish writing as well as interact and collaborate with others" digitally. Additionally, he said professional development for educators also operates on a peer to peer level using technology.
Technology is not a luxury, according to Haines.
"Each year more and more students [have] more techology knowledge," he said. "Seventy percent of children from 2-5 can use a computer mouse, but only 50 percent know how to tie their shoe laces."
To illustrate how society is becoming more digitally focused, Ojas Ray, Central Middle School computer teacher, showed a photo from 2005 of a crowd in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Italy. Few people had mobile devices. A 2013 photo taken at the same place showed most people had smartphones and computer tablets.
"Mobile devices are how students implement technology," he said.
Central Middle School language arts teacher Joe Gillespie talked of being excited about the application iBooks, which he described as "an entire backpack or bookshelf in the palm of your hand."
"I think every parent would be happ to have a child without back problems by the time they get to college, and this helps," Gillespie said. He pointed out an iBooks feature called Digital Bookmarks that he said helps students access information, move through work efficiently, take notes, highlight text and look up vocabulary very easily.
"All definitions are at their fingertips," he said.
Gillespie also praised technology's ability to allow students collaborate with one another.
"Over the last few years, I tried to institute book club activities and discussions in my classrooms," he said. Technology "really helps with their comprehension and fluency, and iBooks makes it easy. Collaborative elements allow all students to be involved."
Haines said that technology in the form of tablets such as iPads is being used for students in studying science, language arts, world languages and other subjects, and called them "great technology for the classroom."
"It gives students tools to put all of their subjects in the palms of their hands," he said.
In summarizing the 3-year plan, Haines told the board and other attendees that the district must maintain a 3 to 1 student/computer ratio, add elementary comuter equipment for keyboarding and word processing and ensure that there are projectors in every classroom."
"You're looking a digital immigrant not a native," said Acting Superintendent of Schools John T. Fitzsimons, thanking Haines and the teachers involved in the presentation. "This will have a transformative effect on how we educate kids."
Fitzsimons suggested that parents check out free educational applications so they can see the range of instructional possibilities that are available.
Board member Anthony Mancuso praised Haines for doing "an amazing job."
"Thank you for all your efforts and for what you've done for the students of Parsippany," he said.
Board President Susy Golderer concurred with a caveat.
"There are a lot of questions still... this is going to be an ongoing process," she said. "So far the district has done a great job."