Inside the tech levy: How Snoqualmie Valley students use technology dollars | Photo Gallery

Mount Si High School student Maddi Brown shows Hunter Abbott-Heutmaker where to find information on a website on her phone.  - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Mount Si High School student Maddi Brown shows Hunter Abbott-Heutmaker where to find information on a website on her phone.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

“Yes! IXL!”

It doesn’t really sound like English when a fifth grade student rejoices to hear what the next lesson will be, but it is. It’s also math, and, it seems, a favorite in Snoqualmie Elementary teacher Deva Baruah’s class.

A big reason for that is simply the technology behind it, most of it funded from the 2010 tech levy that is up for renewal on the February ballot. Although Baruah doesn’t have enough computers for every student all the time, she does get access to a computer cart — computers on wheels — a few times a week that means every one of her students can use one. And about once a week, students can use the computers for math.

Learning math on a phone

IXL is part of the district’s math curriculum. It includes instructional videos and review exercises to help students learn the lessons and then test their knowledge.

“It gives them immediate feedback on whether they got the problem right or not, which is helpful,” Baruah said.

For some students, IXL lessons mean working with a sheet of scratch paper, and sometimes a friend to calculate the answer before they enter it on the computer — or phone, iPad, or Surface. For others, like Haley Workman, it means putting on their headphones, turning up the music, and concentrating on the exercises.

“Many students use their iPods to listen to music while doing the assignment,” Baruah said, “It seems to help many of them focus.”

For the rest of the week, technology plays a slightly smaller part. Baruah goes through math lessons on the ActiveBoard, and students can interact with their handheld ActiveExpressions devices. Also before each lesson, students use ActiveExpressions to do a review exercise of the previous day’s lesson. Again, they get immediate feedback, plus Baruah gets the information, color coded, “so I can quickly see if they understood or not and who to help.”

ActiveBoards and ActiveExpressions are rare examples of an “old” technology—Gayle Smith, now a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), remembered ordering them for the first time more than four years ago when she taught math at the high school -- that hasn’t become obsolete. The boards project information that both teachers and students can work with, either through a stylus, or with the Active Expressions.

Recently in Edina Kecse-Nagy’s German 300 class, the ActiveBoard displayed a German tourism site, and students used the stylus to move through the site to find the answer to one of the lesson questions. As one student drifted to the bottom of the page, fellow students made warning noises to let him know he was off track. Most of them had already found the answer, either on netbooks in the classroom, their own tablet, or their phones, and had entered the answers in a worksheet on Google Drive.

This “cloud-based” technology allows students and teachers alike to share documents like vocabulary lists, with a few extras that Kecse-Nagy appreciates, like a feature that exports all students’ homework answers to a spreadsheet that gives her an overview of how each student is doing.

Bring your own device

Kecse-Nagy started using Google Drive after taking a class on it last year, as part of the Snoqualmie Valley School District’s ongoing professional development.

“This is the thing that was missing,” she said, “Before I couldn’t get to my stuff, because it was all on different computers, but now, I can see it, no matter what device I’m using.”

That’s the key, says Smith, that it works with any device. It has to, since the district has been allowing students to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to school, on a building-by-building basis. BYOD is an alternative to the one-to-one computing initiative — buying a computer for each student — that some area districts are following, and one that Snoqualmie Valley is considered a leader in. Jeff Hogan, Executive Director of Instructional Technology for the district, has been asked by several area school districts to give presentations on how he handles BYOD.

The students are on-board. A technology survey last spring found that about 80 percent of district students wanted to bring their mobile devices to school, and in many cases, had already been doing that.

Hunter Abbott-Heutmaker, for example, uses her new Surface in most classes, except culinary arts. “I type my notes in Word and save them to Google Drive,” she said. But she also has a phone, which goes with her everywhere.

“The kids are just like adults, they always have their phone with them, and when the notification goes off, they check it,” said Kecse-Nagy. Her adoption of BYOD in her classroom was just a logical progression, she said, since the students already had their devices.

Kecse-Nagy capitalizes on that tendency, with learning tools like Quizlet. Student Tyler Smith demonstrates the flashcard app on his iPhone, saying “It’s really useful, for things like if you’re in between classes, and you forgot to study for something.”

Behind Tyler, Matthew Griffin is searching the website on his Android phone. Other students are using district-supplied Chromebooks, iPads, and other tablets, part of the 2,000 devices purchased as part of the 2010 tech levy.

The variety of devices in the classroom reflects the district’s “device-agnostic” approach to tablets, phones, and other mobile devices, says Hogan. “We’re still a Windows shop in our back office…” but for anything student-facing, “...things are changing so fast, I don’t want to be completely wedded to one device… two or three years from now, there’s going to be the next best thing.”

For the district, the next big thing now is renewing the tech levy, which will be used to replace aging computers (on a five- or six-year rotation), buy new and replacement mobile devices for students and teachers, and, the biggest component of the levy, provide professional development and support.

“Professional development is key, along with support,” says TOSA Gayle Smith, whose job is to help teachers incorporate technology, and assess their abilities. “It makes no sense to put technology in the hands of the teachers unless you do those things.”

The district provides ongoing professional development with tech training one Friday each month, as well as three annual multi-day training sessions. Smith and two other TOSAs lead much of the training, in addition to their work supporting teachers and technology throughout the district.

Snoqualmie Valley School District’s technology levy, if approved, will generate about $2.7 million annually for the next four years. The estimated cost to taxpayers is $0.47 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Find out more about the levy at



In Edina Kecse-Nagy's German 300 class, students collaborate and work individually on their mobile devices during a class exercise.


Dylan Cannon checks out a German website on his iPhone for a class exercise.

At SES, Devah Baruah helps Riley Paredes with her math lesson on her laptop.

Top, in the computer lab at Snoqualmie Elementary School, Nicholas Bova, Burke Benham and Michael Albert all tackle their math problems.


Haley Workman seems completely engrossed in her math lesson, as she listens to music and works on her own tablet, brought from home.


Caleb Brown and Preston Anderson react to the feedback they're getting from their IXL math lesson.


A frustrated Nicholas Bova pulls his hair after he figured out the right answer to a math question, but accidentally entered the wrong choose in the computer. "My finger slipped off the Enter key!" he groaned.

Students in Deva Baruah's class use pencil and paper along with computers to solve their math problems.





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