IT Infrastructure and Teacher Workshops | Consortium for School Networking with Yukon-Koyukuk School District, Alaska

Alaska, USA

IT Infrastructure & Teacher Workshops | Yukon-Koyukuk School District with CoSN

May 2018
 
Need: Rural schools in the U.S. typically have a high cost for internet, most students' homes don't have devices or internet connection, and teacher training and retention is a challenge. As part of Team4Tech and CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking)'s multi-year Rural Initiative aimed at providing resources, best practices, and case studies targeted for rural school districts in the U.S., Pure Storage was eager to send a team of their skilled employees on a U.S. project. CoSN had a strong Alaska presence and connection with their CETLs (certified education technology leaders) there. After a few months of searching, Yukon-Koyukuk School District (YKSD) was identified as the next U.S. partner for a Team4Tech project.
 
The Yukon-­‐Koyukuk School District (YKSD) is within the Yukon-Koyukuk Census area, an area that is contained in the Yukon and Koyukuk River Valleys. Overall, the District encompasses nearly 65,000 square miles. The total population in the area is just over 6,000 people. The YKSD serves ten villages. The estimated enrollment is 325 students in K - 12. The district office is located in Fairbanks, in interior Alaska. The district also sponsors a statewide correspondence program called Raven Homeschool serving over 1,200 students statewide. It is possible to travel by road to Minto and Manley Hot Springs. The other eight villages can only be reached by air or river travel (boats in the summer and snow machines in the winter).
 
Project: YKSD recently rolled out its 1:1 initiative, to provide every student in the school district a Chromebook. Their aim is to build the capacity of their teachers and principals to use the devices, ultimately empowering their students, especially given that most teachers taught multi-grade levels, and many high school students took online courses to obtain credits. YKSD's Technology Director solicited applications from teachers and principals throughout the district and selected one teacher from each of the ten schools to attend the Team4Tech Pure Storage workshop. YKSD also invited teachers from three neighboring school districts to join the training and teachers from the Raven Homeschool program to extend the impact.
 
During the three-day intensive workshop, the team of Pure Storage volunteers covered some of the most complex workshops ever prepared for by Team4Tech volunteers. The Pure Storage team engaged the teachers on how to:
 
- Create online books with Book Creator,
- Design professional looking publications with Microsoft Sway,
- Craft engaging videos with WeVideo,
- Problem solve with basic robots called Ozobots,
- Build lego robotics with Lego WeDo 2.0,
- Design 3D items with Tinkercad and then how to calibrate and print them on a 3D printer,
- Create, fly, and program lego drones called Flybrix. 
 
On the IT infrastructure end, initially the team of three Puritans who were assigned to help YKSD with their WAN acceleration and network security weren't quite sure how to help because the YKSD IT staff had their IT infrastructure set up pretty well. After the first day of listening, asking questions and working side-by-side with the YKSD IT staff, the Pure team was able to identify a few areas to help out that helped improve YKSD's IT infrastructure. This included patching servers to make them more reliable, replacing broken hard drives, upgrading servers for protection, and scanning systems for security issues.
 
The team ended the project with a 1.5 hour flight on a 9-person "bush plane" to one of the schools in a village called Nulato. It was an action-packed day, when immediately after the team landed, they sprung into either preparing for their technology workshops with the kids or cooking burrito dinner for the kids, volunteers and teachers. As the 20 elementary level kids slowly poured in to enjoy their burritos, the volunteers realized why they've worked so hard the last 1.5 months to prepare for this project - it's to better prepare these kids for a future in creativity, problem solving, and eagerness to learn. From 6pm - 9pm, the kids were divided into groups to learn all the topics that the team had taught to the teachers a few days ago. Despite some challenges with classroom management, keeping the kids focused and on task, the team felt rewarded. They ended the day with a tour from the teacher around the village to understand the way of life for the 270 Alaskan natives who lived in the village. It was a stark contrast to life in the lower 48 or even in Fairbanks where everything that wasn't caught/fished had to be shipped by either $2/pound on a plane or $0.30/pound on cargo boat during the summer. There are many challenges in the villages including alcohol, high cost of living for diesel ($5/gallon) but there's also a strong sense of pride for their way of life and heritage. I hope that our team was able to bring a little creativity and fun to the kids, to encourage them to keep living, exploring who they are, and carve their future and way of life. 
 

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