4-page Case Study
Posted: 6/5/2014
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Selinsgrove Area School District School District Supports Student Achievement with Innovative Use of Tablets

Among the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania, the Selinsgrove Area School District has been recognized as being in the top 10 percent of the highest-performing high schools in the nation, according to Newsweek Magazine. District leaders are committed to the mission of preparing students to become self-directed learners, effective communicators, proficient users of technology, and contributing members of a global society. During the 2013–2014 academic year, the Selinsgrove Area School District deployed Microsoft Surface tablets for use in the fourth through twelfth grades and is on course to provide a full one-to-one tablet program for all students in the near future. The district has already seen increased interactivity in the classroom, support for creative learning, and improved study skills due to the Surface deployment.

The Selinsgrove Area School District covers an area of 105 square miles and approximately 20,000 residents in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. In a recent study by Newsweek Magazine, Selinsgrove Area High School was recognized as one of the top performing high schools for 2013. Selinsgrove was one of only 2,000 US high schools identified as being the most effective at preparing college-ready graduates. This puts Selinsgrove in the top 10 percent in the nation.

In 2013, Selinsgrove Area School District applied for and received a “Keystones to Opportunity” literacy education grant from the US Department of Education. The district took a hard look at which tools and equipment could help to improve literacy outcomes for students through curriculum focused on literature and reading, writing, and comprehension.

“We try to find tools and resources that allow us to help student achievement—not just any tools, but ones that are easy for our faculty and staff to use so there’s not a big learning curve,” says Chad Cohrs, Superintendent for the Selinsgrove Area School District. “We also want tools that are easy for the students to pick up and grasp because we really don’t want them focused on the technology—it’s more about the knowledge and education that they can get from that piece of technology.”

The district wanted to find a solution that the faculty, staff, and students would like enough to incorporate into their daily lessons, and that would work for more than just reading texts. “We wanted something interactive to help students with comprehension and delving into text,” says Cohrs. “We also wanted a solution that would seamlessly integrate with our existing infrastructure so we wouldn’t have to purchase additional hardware, software, or infrastructure to make it work.”

Selinsgrove used its literacy grant money to supply students and teachers in the fourth through twelfth grades with Microsoft Surface tablets. The district chose the Surface tablet over a traditional laptop and the Kindle Fire HD e-book reader due to its battery life, two-in-one form factor, and versatility.

* Teachers can use the Surface tablets to come up with innovative and interactive lessons that keep students engaged and working collaboratively. *

Faithe Bastian
Literacy Coach, Selinsgrove Area School District

Prior to purchasing the Surfaces tablets, the district had used Kindle Fire tablets in the classroom and traditional desktop PCs in its computer labs. “The major challenge was that students couldn’t create documents on the Kindles. They couldn’t take notes. They couldn’t create PowerPoint presentations or Word documents. So they really couldn’t create anything on them,” says Faithe Bastian, Literacy Coach for the Selinsgrove Area School District.

Selinsgrove also evaluated laptops as a one-to-one device, but found that the battery life and size was a challenge. A laptop battery would last up to four hours in the first year, three hours in the second year, and two hours by the third year. “That’s what led us to the Surface tablets. The batteries last all day. They are essentially a small laptop and the best fit for our needs in the classroom right now,” says Jacob Stiefel, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Selinsgrove Area School District.

“The kids absolutely love using Surface,” says Brenda Folio, a sixth-grade teacher at Selinsgrove Area School District. “When they come in and check the agenda in the morning, they commonly ask if we’ll be using the Surfaces that day. To see that enthusiasm day after day is wonderful.”

“I really like the Surface tablets. I have one at home too,” says a sixth-grade student at Selinsgrove. “My family bought one, because when the school got them, I fell in love with it. It’s the size of a tablet, but it’s basically a computer too, just smaller.”

With the early successes witnessed with students and teachers, the Selinsgrove Area School District is actively working toward a one-to-one initiative to equip all their students with tablets that they can call their own.

“The ultimate goal is to put a Surface tablet in every kid’s hand, so it’s their device from sixth through twelfth grade,” says Erick Decker, Network Administrator at the Selinsgrove Area School District.

“If we could hand students a brand new Surface tablet and say, ‘this is yours for the next six years; take care of it just like a textbook,’ we could load all the materials they need on it,” says Stiefel. “Our students belong to the technology generation. Everything they do is going to be technology-generated. It’s fast becoming a generation of hands-on education. I think it’s our responsibility to set students in the right direction.”

Selinsgrove has already seen benefits to the schools’ literacy education. Since the district was already using the Windows operating system, there was a very small learning curve for teachers and students to be able to incorporate the Surface tablets in the classroom. With the tablets, Selinsgrove is encouraging creativity, building more interactivity into lessons, providing an easy way to access resources, and improving study skills with advanced note-taking.

* Surface tablets are built for working. That is what we really need in education and in schools today, because if we can’t work easily, then we’re not going to get much done. *

Selinsgrove Area School District

Reduces the Technology Learning Curve
With the district already operating on a Windows infrastructure, the school district found there wasn’t much of a learning curve for faculty and staff when they moved to Windows 8. “We definitely wanted a device that would tie in with our existing infrastructure and the Microsoft products that we were already utilizing, like Office 365, OneDrive, and Skype,” says Decker. “There was no major change; we weren’t moving to Google Docs or anything like that which would have added a huge learning curve to our teachers and students and staff. The fact that Surface runs Windows 8 made the transition easy.”

“Windows 8 is nice because you can see where everything is and it’s easy to navigate,” says a student in the Selinsgrove Area School District. His classmate says, “We had a class and learned how to use the Surface tablets and ever since it’s been easy to learn and get schoolwork done faster.”

“I was super excited when I learned that the Surfaces run Windows,” says Bastain. “Our students can use Word and PowerPoint and Excel to do the work that they used to have to go to the computer lab to do.” Now, instead of attending a lab to use desktop computers, each classroom has a set of Surface tablets, including one for the teacher.

“I like that you can use the touch screen or the keyboard or both,” says a Selinsgrove Area School District student. Another student says, “The Kindle devices are built for entertainment while the Surface tablets are built for working. That is what we really need in education and in schools today because if we can’t work easily, then we’re not going to get much done.”

In addition to being easy to use, Selinsgrove has benefited from having a unified technology platform. “We’ve adopted a lot of Microsoft technology here in the school and the compatibility is wonderful. The Office programs work together, and we can play flash videos, use the Window Media Player, surf the web, and use virtual technology. Everything works—there’s no compatibility issues,” says Stiefel.

* We’ve adopted a lot of Microsoft technology here in the school and the compatibility is wonderful. *

Jacob Stiefel
Seventh Grade
Social Studies Teacher,
Selinsgrove Area School District

Encourages Creative Learners
In education, teachers can often feel that working within standards can interfere with developing creative thinkers, but the teachers in Selinsgrove Area School District are finding that technology can help cure that perceived conundrum.

“We want students to know certain information by the time they’re out of high school,” says Nicole Sassaman, a middle school teacher in the Selinsgrove Area School District. “And at the same time, we want them to be free thinkers. By having Surface in the classroom, you have a means for students to go out and explore their own information and create their own products. You can still standardize the information and say, ‘this is what I need you to know,’ but how they get there is completely up to them.”

With Surface and Office 365, students can create Word documents, Excel charts, and PowerPoint presentations, and also take photos, record audio, and create movies to explain the concepts that they learn in class. And, it’s not only students who are coming up with creative ways to utilize tablet technology in the classroom.

“Teachers are thinking of more ways to incorporate the Surface tablets in their curriculum every day,” says Bastain. “We have the common core that they have to abide by, but they now have flexibility in how they teach. Teachers can use the Surface tablets to come up with innovative and interactive lessons that keep students engaged and working collaboratively.”

Builds Interactivity into Lessons
Folio uses an app in her sixth-grade science class called Nearpod, which teachers can use with PowerPoint to create and customize interactive mobile presentations that students can interact with and share with their teacher and classmates. Teachers can poll students and do visual presentations. “Students are actively participating in the lesson, rather than being passive participants. They love the Surface tablets. It keeps them engaged,” says Folio.

Sassaman also uses Nearpod on her Surface tablet and appreciates that the app encourages students to be part of the presentation, rather than just sitting back and consuming the information. She uses the app to run presentations from her Surface tablet, and the students have it right in front of them on their own Surface tablets. Students can answer questions in real time which show up on the whiteboard for everybody to see. “Instead of just telling me, they’re drawing a chemical reaction, writing it out on the screen, and sending it to me. I’m able to pull that up and share examples and go over them with the class. We can also embed videos, so it becomes more of an active presentation,” says Sassaman.

Easy Access to Resources
Students and teachers use Surface tablets to access the Internet and Microsoft SharePoint Online, which makes accessing videos, documents, and homework very convenient. Students can use the tablets to read and compare different documents posted on class SharePoint sites.

Students also use SharePoint to respond to questions and then visit a website called Today’s Meet for a collaborative chatroom discussion. “Our SharePoint site is an ideal place for me to bring in more materials beyond the textbook and post videos, documents, links, and maps for the kids to use,” says Stiefel.

Having an online space for class materials is not only helpful in distributing materials for students to use in the classroom, but also for students who are absent for several days. “Previously, we’d package materials at some point during our prep period and take it down to the main office so the parent could come in to pick it up,” says Stiefel. “Now, it’s so easy to email a parent with a link and say, ‘it’s all posted right here.’”

Improves Study Skills
“Using Surface for note-taking is opening up a lot of doors for us,” says Chad Cohrs, the Selinsgrove Area School District Superintendent. “Now that students are taking their notes in OneNote, we don’t have to worry about them losing their papers.”

Another app used by Selinsgrove Teacher Nicole Sassaman in her class is Drawboard PDF, which makes PDF annotation easy for students on their Surface tablets. “If we’re reading an article together, they can annotate on top of the article,” she says. “They can circle the words they don’t know and write notes on the screen.”

The ability to use the split screen is also helping students with literacy. “Surface gives us enough screen space that you can snap the screen side-by-side, as opposed to smaller tablets,” says Stiefel. “The kids might be reading questions on one side and on the other side, they’ll open Bing images to see the images next to the questions.”

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface was designed to be the one device for everything in your life. Surface offers ports, Microsoft Office compatibility, and optional keyboard covers. Whatever you want to imagine, create, and share—Surface makes it possible to do it all. And more. Surface provides a premium education device experience, enabling educators and students to teach and learn the way they want through a versatile device interface, quality digital content, and personalized learning experiences that deliver real outcomes.

For more information about Microsoft Surface, please go to:

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:

For more information about Selinsgrove Area School District, call (570) 374-1144 or visit the website at:

Solution Overview

Organization Profile

The Selinsgrove Area School District in central Pennsylvania serves students in elementary, intermediate, middle, and high school.

Business Situation

The school district received a grant for literacy education and wanted to find technology tools that would help promote student literacy.


Selinsgrove selected Microsoft Surface tablets, running Windows 8 and Microsoft Office, for students and teachers in fourth through twelfth grade.


  • Reduces the technology learning curve
  • Encourages creative learners
  • Builds interactivity into lessons
  • Provides easy access to resources
  • Improves study skills

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Surface
  • Microsoft Surface with Windows RT
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • SharePoint Online
  • Microsoft Office 2013 suites
  • Microsoft Excel 2013
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2013
  • Microsoft Word 2013
  • Skype

Vertical Industries
Primary & Secondary Edu/ K-12

United States