Tech Talk Live Blog

Using IT Staff to Empower Students

Ashleigh Jensen

For too long school IT staff members have been thought of as just the people who fix the computers and projectors in the classrooms so students can learn. Not any more. Through help from MOUSE Squad and their online curriculum, the Kuna School District (KSD) in Kuna, Idaho is using their IT team to help prepare students for their futures, not just make the tools they need work.

MOUSE Squad is a national non-profit organization, based in New York that empowers youth to learn, lead, and create with technology. With flexible curriculum and online resources, schools can implement and create squads that fit their building needs with the resources they have available. The modules and activities provided by MOUSE are very user-friendly and created for all technical and instructional skill levels. Classroom teachers can now help teach about technology, and technicians can teach using the step by step resources.

For the third year now, Kuna High School is running its own version of a MOUSE Squad group with about 12 students. Squad members meet twice a week during advisory to attend the club-like atmosphere, learning more about how technology works. Without a staff member available to run a full time class, the district’s Educational Technology Specialist, Ashleigh Jensen partners with the high school building technician, Kevin Anderson to co-facilitate the group. During squad meetings, students are working through MOUSE curriculum covering topics like identifying the different ports and plugs of a computer, how to provide great customer service skills, and more recently how to build websites with HTML code. KSD’s MOUSE Squad allows any and all students to participate, so multiple technical skill levels are represented. The students do a great job helping each other out and taking on the responsibility to teach just as much as the adult facilitators do. There are times when they know more and are called upon to lead the discussions.

To help enhance and extend the learning that takes place in squad, a few students apply the knowledge they gain in MOUSE, and help out at the high school helpdesk. Partnering with a district technician, a student will shadow and assist the tech with every day helpdesk tickets. Whether they are changing out motherboards, refreshing printer cartridges, or completely re-imaging machines, the students are getting hands on experience. In return, the district is getting extra help with maintaining the numerous pieces of classroom equipment. Students who complete enough hours working with the helpdesk are able to earn a Professional Technical Job Internship credit for school, along with great experience to put on future career and academic applications.

However, not all MOUSE Squad students have room in their schedules to work at the help desk. In an effort to bring the same hands-on experience to them, any tech initiatives that need extra manpower to complete are brought to the squad. When hundreds of SMART Slates were purchased for the district and needed to be unpackaged, assembled, and inventoried, MOUSE Squad students set up an assembly line, and for two weeks of meeting times they worked on getting each Slate prepped for classroom teachers. Students are also given the opportunity to volunteer their time over school breaks such as spring break or Thanksgiving break to help district technicians with software updates or other technology projects.

During summer break, technology takes advantage of the empty classrooms to complete all imaging, cleaning, and updating. With thousands of computers this task can take longer than the couple of months that teachers and students are gone. The KSD technology team has always hired summer help to come in and work with building techs to complete this maintenance. For the last couple of years, MOUSE Squad students have been interviewed and given the few positions that are available. Many of the students who are hired have been working with district technology already through the MOUSE Squad helpdesk, so not much time has to be taken to train them on the tasks they will be completing. Requiring students to complete the application and interview process sometimes offers them their first real world experiences with job searching.

After the Kuna Middle School received nearly one million dollars from a state grant to implement a 1:1 Chromebook Initiative, a second MOUSE Squad group was started to help take on the additional technology coming to the building. The middle school squad focused on many of the same topics as the high school group; however, more training on the Chromebooks and how to help troubleshoot them was provided. MOUSE Squad members manned their own helpdesk in the front office of the middle school and helped close over 200 Chromebook tickets. By training the students in how to fix the technology they use, it helps empower them to support themselves and their peers and become leaders in their classrooms.

Even though the group’s focus is on technology, there are many more valuable skills they learn through MOUSE Squad that will help them in all aspects of their lives. To learn more about the KSD MOUSE Squads, please visit their website. Learn more about how you can start a MOUSE Squad at your school.

Ashleigh Jensen was an elementary teacher for six years. She received her Masters in Educational Technology in May 2011 from Boise State University, and became a Technology Specialist for her district in 2012. Ashleigh works full time with teachers helping them integrate classroom technologies into their daily lessons. She also coordinates two MOUSE Squad student tech groups, and is a Certified Google Trainer and SMART Exemplary Educator.

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