Technology in Schools

By Andy Cook

By now, we’ve all been exposed to technology in some form or another. Whether you’re ordering a sandwich at a convenience store using a touch-screen display, shopping online, doing research at your local library, or finding your way with a map on your smartphone, technology is here to stay. It makes our lives easier, more efficient, and enables us to multi-task like nobody’s business. Social media links hundreds of thousands of people, and many people live their lives through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, the question to ask ourselves is: does technology help our children to learn?

In March 2012, the Harvard Business Review published and article titled, “Rethinking School.” It states that entrepreneurs and public school leaders are working to create a new generation of adaptive courseware and schools that blend “the best of teacher and computer-delivered instruction; not as a replacement for teachers but as a way to give them the tools they need to become dramatically more effective.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle, a well-respected scholar in the field of technology, was interviewed in another Harvard Business Review article where she discussed the impact of what technology does to us, as well as what it does for us. Regarding her research on computers and their effects on society, Turkle said “it changes how teachers think about teaching and how their students think about
learning.” presentations.

Locally, the use of technology is prevalent today, starting with children as early as kindergarten. Peter Schützler, principal of St. Thomas More School in Allentown, said that the school’s technology journey began seven years ago when they created a committee to address educational technology. “Educational technology is ever-evolving, and should be, because technology is as well,” he shared.

Every classroom at St. Thomas More is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, which Schütlzer equates to “a chalkboard on steroids,” as the technology enables the recording of what’s on the board, and saving the information as a computer file. This way, if a student is absent, they could watch a recording of everything that was taught that day using ‘smartboard’ technology.

Tracy Sell, St. Thomas More’s Director of Educational Technology, said that there are currently 400 Apple iPads in use by their students, including the youngest students in kindergarten. The devices are used to reinforce curriculum through the use of educational games. Sell shared that the school collaborated with Apple directly and the concern for internet safety was of paramount importance, noting that they are 100% compliant with the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA requires that K-12 schools (as well as libraries) use internet filters and other measures to protect children from harmful online content as a condition of certain federal funding. The security and content filter software at St. Thomas More is in place 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Sell said that they deployed the iPads in October 2012, and they have been very pleased with how well they have been received, not just by the students, but by the parents as well. They have seen increased engagement, increased collaboration, and increased communication not just between the teachers and students, but between students as well. The use of technology has had a transformational impact on many of the classes. “Teachers are using the device as a tool to enhance existing instruction,” Sell said. The software applications encourage and foster collaborative,
experiential learning.

Students in first grade are able to ‘write’ their own stories, and using art applications, add text and graphics, and ‘publish’ books of their own original works. Software is in place which also enables students to share their work among the iPads or on
the smart board.

In grades five through eight, creative software is used to enable students to make movies, for note-taking in class, and for communication. Some students even are able to make a movie ‘trailer’ (coming attraction) as a means of a creative book report. Footage is filmed and software with music and titles energizes students and promotes creativity.

Students at St. Thomas More also have in-house email accounts, which are governed with the security software. These accounts enable students to communicate with their teachers. Students are also able to take their iPads home, which is especially helpful when it comes to problems with homework.

If a student is having trouble with a particular math problem, she can use her iPad to record the issues (and document the steps they were taking in problem solving), email the recording to the teacher, and have the teacher provide feedback on the specific aspect of the math problem the student was having difficulty. Many times, the teachers are responding outside of regular school hours (e.g. in the evening when the students are doing homework), enabling students to get help at the time they are having trouble. “In a non-technology environment, that same student could feel confused, skip the review problems, and perhaps not ask for assistance at the next class day,” says Schützler.

The use of technology will continue to give teachers the tools and flexibility to adjust how class time is used in order to ensure that all students master skills and content.

Technology is here to stay but it is not the end game. Instead, it will serve as a means to enable innovation in education.

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