Cutting-Edge Technology Comes to Red Cloud’s Classrooms

February 14, 2018


Learning the Lakota language is part of life at Red Cloud. With only 6,000 fluent—and rapidly aging—speakers left, keeping the language alive means encouraging a new generation to learn and use the language in their daily lives.

And for language teacher Roger White Eyes, that’s where using technology comes in.



Several years ago, in a professional development seminar, Roger realized that the same kinds of online platforms his students are so comfortable using could also help encourage them to practice speaking Lakota at home, beyond the boundaries of the typical school setting. And today, using computer-based applications like Canvas, he’s seeing his students interact with the language in a whole new way.

“Unless I make them speak the language, they won’t speak on their own—so I really want to create assignments that take the language out of the classroom. And using tools like Canvas, I can have students record assignments at home—so they get the experience of speaking in a completely different setting. I like that it really helps shy students who don’t get as much practice speaking.”

And Canvas was just the beginning. Roger’s students are using another platform, Prezi, to create presentations in Lakota—and even using iMovie to create short films in the language. Through technology, they are bringing their heritage language into the 21st century.



Language is just one area where Red Cloud teachers are leveraging the power of technology. In classrooms across both of Red Cloud’s campuses, new tools and software are helping students grasp new concepts and build their skills in everything from math to science to reading. It’s all a part of Red Cloud’s new technology plan, which focuses on using cutting-edge tools and software to better support teachers and improve student outcomes.

Gwen Sheridan, Red Cloud’s first-ever Educational Technology Specialist, works at the heart of this new initiative. And for her, taking on this role in a community where most families can’t afford personal computers or Internet access is a labor of love. It’s about setting students up for success, now and in the future.

“Today college students are expected to understand learning management systems like Canvas—and what’s more, when they are finished with college, almost every job in the future will demand that they be computer literate,” said Gwen. “The work we’re doing now is about creating a level playing field with other students across the country who already have access to this kind of technology. It’s about making sure our students aren’t starting a step behind—and preparing them to succeed in college academics and beyond.”



After administrators recognized that Red Cloud was falling behind in providing access to technology—a best practice in education today—they initiative a comprehensive study to identify critical gaps and needed improvements. And today, Gwen is working alongside principals and teachers to implement the resulting technology plan.

One of the plan’s very first steps was going “one-to-one”—essentially putting laptop computers into the hands of each and every Red Cloud student, from kindergarten through high school. Research has shown that the one-to-one approach can drive up test scores in everything from English to math and science. And for Gwen, it’s an essential strategy in building students’ comfort level with technology.

“Going one-to-one is such a big deal, such an opportunity for our students,” she said. “It normalizes technology for them. And when they are used well, having laptops accessible to our kids can engage them far more in classroom instruction.”

But for Gwen, increasing students’ access to technology is just one piece of the puzzle. Ensuring that teachers know how to use new platforms and equipment—to really integrate them into learning—is equally crucial.

“A core focus of my job is supporting our teachers and providing high-quality professional development. Because making an investment to go one-on-one with laptops won’t help if we’re not using those laptops in a meaningful way,” she said.



Gwen works directly with teachers to help them understand the resources available to them—and how they can use new software programs to access worlds of new learning materials. Right now, she’s helping Red Cloud’s elementary school teachers learn to leverage the power of Raz Kids, an online platform that provides hundreds of interactive eBooks at a wide range of reading levels.

“What’s wonderful about something like Raz Kids is that it’s affordable and comes with so many resources. In addition to helping our teachers assess our students’ reading ability, we’ve actually given parents access to the platform—so if they have Internet access at home, their kids can read as many books as they want without having to purchase them,” said Gwen.

With support from Gwen, teachers are also using online platforms to access lesson plans, worksheets, and quizzes, all designed to provide more comparable data on how students are learning.

“These tools not only makes teachers more efficient—they provide teachers with a much clearer sense of where they need to focus to support students who are struggling and meet standards in our curriculum.”



Now that Red Cloud has invested in a number of online platforms to improve teaching and streamline testing, Gwen’s task is to train teachers to integrate those tools more fully into their work—something she finds incredibly rewarding.

“I really enjoy seeing teachers who were initially reluctant or uncomfortable with technology begin to see how much it can help—and how much they love using it,” said Gwen.

And going forward, Gwen has every intention of challenging Red Cloud’s teachers to do more. Specifically, she wants to help teachers achieve the benefits of a “blended learning” model, which draws on effective technological tools to create more dynamic and engaging classroom experiences.

“In a blended learning environment, you might have a class of 15 students—but with the right technology, teachers can manage the classroom in such a different way. Five students might be working directly with you on a problem, while five more could be reading independently, while the last five complete a quiz. Every single student is engaged, but it creates the opportunity for a teacher to connect one-on-one with more students throughout a class, to assess how they are absorbing material,” explains Gwen.

“When it’s used right, technology can truly enhance learning in powerful ways. And that’s right where we’re headed at Red Cloud.”

Investing in technology is already helping Red Cloud students learn and achieve more! Join us as we work to bring new equipment to our classrooms—and train our teachers on how to use technology to support student’s academic outcomes! Contact info@redcloudschool.org for more information!


Photos © Red Cloud Indian School



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