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View From Vis: Tech at Vis

At Visitation School, we know that when our students are tech savvy, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for them. Whether they are editing videos, designing websites, learning to code, or simply taking advantage of the organizational tools on their personal devices, Visitation students gain the technology and digital citizenship skills necessary to thrive in our evolving world.

There are two full-time Technology Integrationists at Vis. Kelsey Irizarry in Lower and Middle School and Ronna Baca in Upper School support Vis teachers and students in all things tech. These master educators enhance the curriculum at Vis in many exciting ways. We recently had a discussion with them about what their jobs entail.

Tech in Upper School

Every student in Visitation Upper School is given her own MacBook Air laptop. Mrs. Baca trains these students to use these devices to their fullest capacity, so that they can hit the ground running when they enter college. According to Mrs. Baca, having a MacBook Air as opposed to a tablet allows students to gain competence in using powerful, high-level devices and applications. "Engineering, digital photography, computer science, and other courses here utilize applications that require a powerful computer to run," she said. "Our students get exposure to applications that other devices can't handle."

Helping Upper School students organize their digital life is also a big part of Mrs. Baca's job. She does flex tech sessions with ninth graders to teach them how their computer can help them keep their assignments, emails, files, etc.        well organized. She serves as a valuable resource for any Upper School student who needs extra support. "If a student is having trouble prioritizing her coursework or keeping up with assignments, I collaborate with her and with our learning specialist to develop a system that works," Mrs. Baca said.

Teachers at Visitation rely on Mrs. Baca as well. She helps teachers with everything from 3D printing to podcasting. She loves when she can teach the Visitation teachers something new. "I love to help teachers integrate tech into their curriculum. They’re experts in different subjects, but technology can support their work in so many ways," she said. "I'm here to take the intimidating factor out of tech and to help them enhance their curriculum. Many things need to be digital these days, and teachers are gaining these skills alongside their students."

Mrs. Baca also reinforces the digital citizenship concepts that students learn in Lower and Middle School, supports students who may need to work remotely, and serves as a resource for parents as they navigate Visitation's learning management system, Schoology. 

Some of Mrs. Baca's favorite Tech Integration projects from the 2020-21 school year included: helping Physical Science students design Women in Science posters that were digitized, reproducible and professional-looking; helping students design and 3D print atom models in Chemistry class; and helping Art students design and 3D print name stamps for their pottery creations.  

Mrs. Baca brings over 27 years of K-12 technology and art-related experience to Visitation. She has a BA in Art and Spanish from the College of St. Benedict and a Masters in Education from the University of Minnesota. "I have always had a passion for incorporating technology into curriculum, and I feel so lucky to be doing this work at Vis," she said.

Tech in Lower and Middle School

At Vis, Lower School begins in Montessori, which is intentionally tech-free so that these young students can learn through play and hands-on exploration. Even so, Mrs. Irizarry helps prepare the youngest learners for the technological world that awaits them in the future with engineering projects like creating kites, LEGO challenges, on-paper "coding" of changes in plant growth, and more.

In Kindergarten through Middle School, students each have an iPad, which Mrs. Irizarry helps them use in age-appropriate ways. "My goal is to start mindful tech as early as possible and help students develop tech literacy skills in ways that enhance their learning," Mrs. Irizarry said. She supports Lower and Middle School teachers with project-based tech integration and helps students develop skills like typing, coding, developing a healthy relationship with technology, and digital citizenship.

"One unique thing about Vis is that we're teaching digital citizenship right out of the gate," Mrs. Irizarry said. "From the beginning, students at Vis learn to use technology safely and ethically. We teach students to balance technology and relationships--always emphasizing that relationships are more important." For example, Mrs. Irizarry helps students understand why posting someone's photo without permission can be harmful; how to respect copyrighted material; how to stay safe online; and how to build a healthy relationship with social media.

Highlights of tech integration in the Lower School include: Kindergarten and first grade students learn robotics using codeable mice; second graders learn website design; third graders create infographics using graphic design programs; fourth graders design and 3D print natural disaster simulators in collaboration with the engineering program at the University of St. Thomas; and fifth graders create and edit digital videos.

Mrs. Irizarry co-teaches with Middle School faculty to build on this foundation and enhance digital skills even further, helping students make slideshow presentations, podcasts, videos and more--all while infusing the mindful use of technology and creative property. 

She works closely with Mrs. Baca to support teachers and parents as well. "Because there are two of us, we can really customize the support we give to each age group," Mrs. Irizarry said. "The job is constantly evolving in new and exciting ways. It's fun to see how much our students and teachers benefit when we incorporate tech into the curriculum."

Mrs. Irizarry graduated from St. Catherine's University with a BS in Elementary Education and received her Masters in Education from St. Mary's University. She also holds a Technology Certificate and a STEM/Engineering Certificate from the University of St. Thomas.

Fun Facts About Tech at Vis

Visitation has a Genius Bar in its library, which offers tech support all day every day, so students can get customized support anytime for tech issues that arise. 

In addition, Visitation has:

  • Four 3D printers
  • Sphero robots
  • Code and Go Mice Robots
  • Ozobot robots
  • Little Bits Engineering Kits
  • Makey Makeys
  • Paper circuits
  • Lego kits for free-form challenges 
  • Garmin GPS sets
  • Breakout Edu kit
  • GoPro cameras
  • And more!