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Crowdfunding to aid classrooms?

Crowdfunding has long been a popular avenue for raising funds for innovative business plans, creative projects and product ideas with websites such as Kickstarter.com.

Now teachers have jumped aboard the crowdfunding bandwagon and are raising money for classroom projects through websites dedicated solely to education, including DonorChoose.org and Incited.org.

The increasing popularity of crowdfunding in the education sector is partly a product of the financial squeeze school districts across Oregon have experienced over the last six years.

On the Donors Choose website, there are 166 projects listed for Oregon public schools and 16 for classrooms in the Hillsboro School District. Half of those are for electronic devices such as iPads and Chromebooks.

Teachers contend that getting advanced technology devices into the hands of students is imperative for teaching to new standards.

But a district-wide inventory of technology last year in Hillsboro schools found that 60 percent of the district’s classroom computers are more than six years old — effectively obsolete.

Last fall, voters rejected a five-year general obligation bond that would have funded $17 million toward upgrading technology.

“There’s a huge need with 34 school buildings and all those classrooms,” said Don Wolff, the district’s director of technology.

This year, the district budgeted $1.5 million for technology upgrades. That money bought projectors for classrooms and new computers for secondary teachers, Wolff said. In addition, the district added more wireless access points in the schools, so students with their own devices can connect to the Internet for classwork and homework.

The district will spend another $1.5 million next school year aimed at setting up technology-enhanced classrooms.

Sean Fishback, an English teacher at Evergreen Middle School, is using Donors Choose to buy a set of 40 Chromebook notebook computers for use in his classroom. Fishback said his students will be able to access the Internet for research and can use software to create reports and presentations.

At Evergreen, the parents bought a set of Chromebooks for general use and Fishback was able to use them several times. He found the students were “excited to use the new technology” and more quickly engaged in their lessons.

“Some (students) don’t have computers at home,” he said. “In some ways, it’s an equalizer. It’s a new learning experience for all of them. The money (from the school district) is just not there. I was tired of complaining about it and decided to do something about it.”

The same is true of Morgan Park, a sixth-grade teacher at Mooberry Elementary School.

She currently has two requests on Donors Choose, both to help with teaching math. One is a request to fund an interactive whiteboard; the other is for a set of scientific calculators for her classroom.

The whiteboard, Park said, “will help bring lessons to life.”

The college preparatory mathematics curriculum she uses contains an e-tools section, Park explained, that offers ways to enhance the lessons through the use of technology.

“We can’t access that,” she said.

She finds that using technology “helps coax the students into the lesson.”

Park’s need for a set of graphing calculators is even more pressing.

“Right now, I have to pass around my iPhone or my personal 10-year-old calculator to groups to try to solve the equations while the other groups get impatient or lose interest,” reads an excerpt from her Donors Choose request.

With just 32 working computers for students at Mooberry, Park said she is tired of waiting for the technology.

“I have 34 students in my class,” she said, and worries that her students don’t have adequate access to learn even computer basics. That, she said, will be a problem next year when students will take the new “smarter balanced assessments” aligned to Common Core State Standards. Those assessments are designed to be taken on a computer.

Not the first request

Fishback and Park are not new to Donors Choose. Fishback and several other teachers at Evergreen funded a set of classroom books. That effort was for $800.

“It’s a little more this time,” said Fishback, whose current request for Chromebooks is for $11,000.

“My idea was that 100 businesses could each contribute $100,” Fishback said.

He has mailed letters to local businesses, but so far, he noted, the response hasn’t been what he’d hoped.

“Parents have been responsive. That’s pretty awesome,” he said.

Last year, Park successfully funded a wireless listening center for her classroom, a set of headphones that connect wirelessly to a single iPad. Students can listen to audiobooks and learn language lessons, Park said. That effort was funded in two months, mostly by anonymous donors.

Wolff asks teachers seeking donations of technology to contact his department.

“We can offer some advice, try to give them some sound direction,” he added.

School district communications director Beth Graser said there’s a gap between teachers finding ways to get technology devices to their classrooms and being able to put the devices to work. The district has an approved technology list.

“We want to make sure they’re choosing the right kind of technology. We want our teachers to be motivated to do this,” Graser said.



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