Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Petaluma’s 6th Grade Academy, a 1:1 Pioneer

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 12.02.13

6th Grade Academy StudentsPetaluma’s 6th Grade Academy began its third year as a one-to-one school in August 2013, implementing a program that provides leased iPads to all students. It was launched because district administrators wanted to offer students a “technology option” among their schools. The charter school has been a popular choice for sixth-graders in Petaluma and has had a waiting list for enrollment each year.

Mary Reynolds and Danna Rocca are the current teachers at the 6th Grade Academy. They cite four reasons why schools should consider going to a one-to-one technology model:

  • Increased student engagement
  • Easy access to digital content and information
  • Enhanced self-expression using multimedia tools
  • It’s the model for the future of education

The 6th Grade Academy has been a pioneer in the Northern California world of one-to-one schools. When the school first opened, Danna says that there weren’t many schools to talk with or visit to learn about teaching and learning in a technology-enabled classroom. “The district had the vision and we were hired to carry it out.”

Danna and Mary describe a proactive focus to their professional learning as they operate the school. Regarding professional development, they say:

  • We can’t wait around for someone to offer us training. We have to seek out our own learning.
  • We have to recognize that it is OK not to know everything.
  • Because of our early adoption of the model, we’re just 10 steps ahead of everyone else in one-to-one classrooms.

Danna and Mary currently find much of their professional development from YouTube and Twitter.

Curriculum Integration
Commenting about how they integrate technology in learning, Mary says, “We are not about technology for technology’s sake. Student learning outcomes are central to our work. We plan with those in mind first. Technology is more the media for access and expression. We chunk content with technology. There are two consistent questions we’re asking as we carry out our work: What are students learning? How are students progressing in the 6th grade content?”

Digital Citizenship
Digital citizenship is an important topic at the school. Each student has a Gmail account and use of Google drive for storing files. Students are taught to think about their “digital footprints,” including the text messages, emails, and media messages they send to one another/the world.

Danna and Mary find curriculum materials to support digital citizenship at Common Sense Media and iTunes U. They point out that modeling what good digital citizenship looks like is very important. For example, they describe a recent activity that required students to comment to one another through Edmodo and Kid Blogger. The teachers reviewed the etiquette of making comments, instructing students to “THINK” before they post. THINK questions:

T – Is it True?
H – Will it be Helpful?
I – Will it be Inspiring?
N – Is it Necessary?
K – Is it Kind?

They also point out the importance of ensuring that students understand the tone of their posts (authentic, sarcastic, supportive, constructive, etc.) and how to empathize with the person receiving the post/comment.

The iPad Environment
iPads are the main technology for students at the 6th Grade Academy. Mary and Danna point out that iPad configuration can be difficult in a one-to-one setting. All students have specific, common apps on their tablets. Because adding new apps and doing software updates can be tricky, the district has contracted for technical support and uses Apple’s tool for managing iPads, the Apple Configurator.

Student iPads are owned by the district and parents sign a use agreement at the beginning of the school year. Students cannot add new apps. Internet content is filtered at home and at school through the district’s content filter. Parents are also encouraged to support a $30 self insurance iPad breakage fee.

The following list of dos and don’ts have helped guide student actions with iPads.

  1. Don’t change the backgrounds.
  2. Don’t put on a passcode.
  3. Don’t rearrange the order of the apps.
  4. The camera is not to be used during class unless it is part of a project.
  5. You have to respect other people’s rights to not have their picture taken.
  6. Apps that allow for communication between players are to be used only with teacher approval.
  7. iPads are to come charged to school each day.
  8. iPads are to remain in their cases at all times.
  9. iPads are to remain with the cover on and under the desk unless directed by the teacher.
  10. iPads are not to be left unattended on top of the desk.
  11. Free iPad time is for exploring iPad applications.
  12. Classroom internet time is to be used for academic purposes, not surfing the web.
  13. Teachers have the right at any time to conduct “spot” iPad checks.
  14. All content on the iPad is subject to teacher review.
  15. During school hours, iPads are only to be used outside the classroom with explicit permission. Unauthorized use will get your iPad confiscated.
  16. Students are expected to have a pair of earbuds for use with the iPad.
  17. Students are expected to follow all protocols established regarding iPad use during break and lunch.



Blog: Technology for Learners