Since students will be relying heavily on computers for online learning this fall, parents have been looking to brush up on their technology skills. To prepare families, district staff held a community forum last Tuesday demonstrating how to navigate district-issued Chromebooks and online learning forums.
The district’s libraries and instructional technology program is committed to providing equitable access and support to students and staff to enhance classroom instructions, said district Director of Technology Cynthia Nelson.
“We do this by making sure technology is woven into all areas of instruction and not just a separate subject area,” she said.
When schools closed in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, district staff scrambled to figure out the most effective way to continue teaching students. With schools remaining closed to in-person learning until at least November, staff has been distributing district-issued Chromebooks — typically only provided to middle and high school students — to elementary school students. Starting this year, students in fifth and ninth grades will receive new Chromebooks that they will use for four years.
“We know that technology access was a significant barrier for some families in the spring and we’re committed to ensuring 100% of our students are able to engage online whether at home, at child care or wherever else learning happens for them,” said IT Operations Manager Chris Bailey.
The district has also partnered with Comcast to provide qualifying families with internet access and will be picking up the $10 per month charge, said the district’s network supervisor Annette Thornhill. Last spring, the district provided internet hotspots to qualifying families and will continue to do so this fall, she said.
“While we hope to get as many families as possible signed up for Comcast Internet Essentials, we know that it’s not always possible,” she said. “In those instances, we will continue to provide hot spots — one per family — for those that need internet access but cannot be set up with Comcast.”
Even with Chromebooks and internet access, using technology-based remote learning comes with a variety of concerns from parents and guardians worried they aren’t tech savvy enough to help their children with school work. During the forum, student support staff and members from the district’s technology department gave an overview of the learning management systems that will be used in the fall to teach students online.
Manager of Libraries and Instructional Technology Lauren Wishkoski said the systems will be a “one-stop shop” for students where teachers will post weekly/daily updates, share lessons and learning materials, distribute and receive students’ assignments, give students feedback and conduct student-teacher messaging. For pre-K through second-grade students, district staff chose Seesaw, and Canvas was selected for third- through sixth-grade students.
During the Sept. 1 presentation, Wishkoski gave a guided tour on how students will be able to access their designated learning management system on their Chromebook. Both Seesaw and Canvas will be accessible through Clever Login found in the Edmonds Bookmark tab on the Chromebook homepage. When school begins, students will be able to access Clever using their same login information as last year, said Information Systems Supervisor Jenn Madsen.
Before school starts, teachers will send links to parents that allow them to create their own Seesaw login account to monitor students’ progress. Once a parent account is created, it can be used to monitor a student’s classroom progress for as many years as the student is using the learning management system.
“For example, if you have a kindergartener this year you will continue to be connected to Seesaw for Schools for future years,” Madsen said.
Also in the Edmonds Bookmark folder, eighth- through 12th-grade students using Canvas will find a link to Canvas. Since Canvas is used by other colleges and school districts, Wishkoski said it’s important that students use the Canvas link in the bookmark folder to access their account. Another option to access Canvas will be to go to edmonds15.instructure.com. Students will be able to login with the same information used to login to their Chromebook.
The login page also includes a link where parents can create their own Canvas login account. Like Seesaw, once parents create a Canvas account, they will be able to connect to their child’s account throughout their time in the district.
Once in Canvas, students will find a navigation bar that allows students to customize their account settings and preferences, and access their course list, calendar and message inbox. Each course will have its own homepage with information about the class, contact information for the teacher and ways to view the current week and last week’s activities.
“The way that teachers are organizing their classes at elementary and secondary levels in Canvas is by week,” Wishkoski said. “So, this helps you as families to be able to see for specific dates, weeks, what is happening during that time period.”
To learn more about Seesaw, Canvas and other tools students will be using, such as Zoom and Clever, plus basic Chromebook information, families can visit the district’s Family and Student Resource webpage.
To provide continued support to families, the district will be offering new ways to communicate during remote learning. In addition to using email and messaging offered through Seesaw and Canvas, families can opt to receive text messaging to receive district- and school-wide messages. Texts are optional and can be accessed by texting “Y” or “Yes” to 67587 from a phone number connected to the student’s Skyward account.
“(Skyward) is where…all of these tools are getting that contact information to connect with you,” said Communications Coordinator Amanda Ralston.
This year, several teachers will also be using Remind, an in-app messaging tool for smaller group and classroom messaging. Ralston also said Remind messaging will be accessible through Canvas.
This year, the district will implement i-Ready — an online system used to assess students’ skills in a subject – which in the district’s case will be math — and offer support. During an assessment, questions become gradually more difficult when students offer correct answers. If a student misses a question, the assessment regresses to simpler questions. Last year, i-Ready was piloted in the district in more than 200 classrooms with 5,000 students.
“This allows the assessment to find each students’ specific strengths and gaps in their mathematical learning,” said Assessment, Research and Evaluation Director Brandon Lagerquist. “After a student completes the diagnostic, they get personalized, online instruction based on the results of the diagnostic assessment.”
Lagerquist said i-Ready delivers the best results when students use it for 45 minutes to one hour per week. However, students cannot expect to be assessed right away. According to Lagerquist, i-Ready won’t be used until Sept. 24 at the earliest. Kindergarten students will not be assessed until January 2021 or later, he added.
“I just want to be clear that we aren’t’ rushing in to assess students at the very beginning of the year,” he said. “We definitely want those first couple of weeks to be spent on engagement and learning the routines of the remote learning environment.”
Following the presentation, staff read questions submitted by families prior to the forum. The first question came from a parent asking when students can expect to receive their Chromebook. In response, Technology Projects Coordinator Sarah Luczyk said distribution will be determined by each school.
“If your school hasn’t already begun their distributions, you should look for communication from that building,” she said. “They’re being very flexible to try and meet their communities on different days of the week and times of day to try and accommodate as many times as possible.”
Next, a question was asked regarding how students who are unable to use a keyboard would be able to use online learning. According to Wishkoshi, both Seesaw and Canvas are video and audio compatible, which will help students and allow teachers to post instructional videos online. Students will also be able to submit their own videos and images for assignments.
Additionally, Wishkoshi said both Seesaw and Canvas will offer multilingual options for non-English-speaking families.
When asked how i-Ready would work alongside the district’s math curriculum, Lagerquist stressed that i-Ready will not replace the current core curriculum and will only be used as a support system.
“i-Ready is first and foremost and primarily an assessment system to better understand what a student’s strengths and gaps are in their math learning,” he said.
Another parent asked if students would be able to use devices other than their district-issued Chromebook. Though any device can be used to complete the work, Bailey said staff is strongly encouraging students to use their district Chromebook because it makes it easier for teachers and staff to distribute important links and other information to students.
“We don’t have that level of control or capability with personal devices, so we do encourage the use of district Chromebooks, but there are certainly situations where another device might be more appropriate for your student,” he said.
Next was a question asking how new students can get their Skyward username name and password if they have not yet received it. Madsen said login credentials can be obtained by calling the student’s school, or by contacting district tech support at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-431-1211.
In response to a question about safety for elementary school students using email for school, Nelson said the district put significant thought into creating a “walled garden” to prevent students from receiving outside emails as well as sending emails out.
“It’s always that fine balance, when you talk about security, between convenience and being secure and we tend to lean more towards being secure,” she said.
In the event a student needed to swap out a device, Luczyk said swaps involving devices in need of repairs will be available yearlong by making an appointment at the Edmonds School District Office, located at 20420 68th Ave. W. in Lynnwood. The district will also waive all Chromebook repair costs for families while remote learning is in effect.
Submitted questions that staff did not answer during the forum can be found on the district’s Frequently Asked Questions page.
–By Cody Sexton