By Technology Director Adam Murray
It is obvious that we live in a world full of gizmos and gadgets. We have seen technological advancements over the past few decades like never before. We seem to get wrapped up in the newness and often times are caught in amazement about a device rather than its practicality or usefulness. Put in another way, certain technology advancements are cool, but that does not mean we have a good case for using them.
Early on, many of us were skeptical about putting devices in the hands of students. The thought of every student having their own device to take home was absurd. Now it is the norm, and we wonder how we ever got by without them. Technology has created opportunities for learners, opportunities to produce outcomes that were never possible before. Technology became a tool and not just a fancy piece of hardware. The ability to group and regroup students dynamically based on the learning goals they have met or not met is a great example of this.
Another place where technology shines is in bringing out the creativity in students of all ages. One Apple Professional Learning Specialist said that there is one thing she has seen over and over as she visits schools across the state. Students do not think they are creative. She always asks for a show of hands from those who believe they are creative. In the lowest grades, most students felt they were creative; at the middle-grade levels, about half of students felt they were creative, and in the higher grades, almost none felt they were creative. We have a society of people who, as they get older, increasingly believe that they are not creative. That is just not true. At the FOSSed conference session where she demonstrated this, I was one of the ones that said I was not creative. She showed me that I was; I just hadn’t been given the tools to demonstrate it.
The session was about how to make infographics using Pages, an application that is part of the iWork suite. We first made a pencil by using various shapes and colors and sizing and aligning them all properly. This, very easily, got my mind going about how I could use Pages to create so many other things and allowed the creativity that I thought I didn’t have to take over. I started making posters and creating templates to share information with teachers and students across the district, posters that otherwise would blend in with many others and go unnoticed. I have had Pages on my laptop for years but had always dismissed it as just another word processing application. It is not a replacement for Microsoft Word or Google Docs. It is another tool, similar to them, but it provides the flexibility to create shapes, move them around freely, overlay and cut, and more. Pages is another tool in the toolbag that further reiterates the value in technology.
Meeting every student, every day, in every school, where they are at in their learning is almost an impossible task, but it is something we will always strive for. Technology can make this a reality and already has in several ways.
Tech in the classroom around the district
Atwood Kindergarten teacher, Anne Roberts uses learning apps to help students practice early skills in reading and math. This year she has also been working in collaboration with Shelly Moody to help students develop close reading skills through the use of the Apple TV. “We have displayed large photographs on the Apple TV for the children to observe,” said Roberts. “They can go right up to the screen and point to tell us, “I notice that……..” It’s been awesome. They then take these same photographs and work as table groups to “read” them closely.”
Brittany Dunn’s first graders at BCS also use their iPads to work interactively through an app called Showbie. Students can open and complete assignments on their device and she is able to pull the work up on the Apple TV “ We can discuss their work whole group–changing what needs to be fixed and commenting on what was done well,” said Dunn. “This is a great way for students to be able to describe how they got to their answer.” Dunn also uses her document stand and camera to demonstrate tasks in handwriting or directed drawing or to highlight words, textual evidence or parts of speech during a shared read.
China Primary School is in its second year participating in a Maine Department of Education pilot project called MoMEntum that is designed to improve literacy in kindergarten through 3rd grade students through the use of specific iPad technology. As part of instructional activities, the project uses a program called eSpark to assist with differentiating lessons. The eSpark program selects applications and creates “quests” on the iPads. Students must show mastery before moving on to the next skill area. “The exciting news is that test data from last spring showed good gains for all of our students in the area of literacy,” said Principal Darlene Pietz. “We are all working hard and hope to see continued gains for our students as a result of being part of this project.”
Andrew Gordon teaches fifth grade at JHB and uses technology to explore science and social studies standards with his students. Technology allows his students to go beyond their geographical location and offers access to a wider world, both academically and socially.“We are able to access virtual materials that would otherwise be inaccessible,” said Gordon. “We also use our Apple TV to go on “virtual field trips” and explore places around the country and world when discussing social studies topics like diversity.”
BCS 5th grade teacher, Eric Brooks integrates technology into a variety of lessons. “Recently in math, students used a number grid app to create a visual representation of adding and subtracting decimals,” said Brooks. He also had students record themselves explaining the problems in order to have them demonstrate higher level thinking. “Students are also required to complete several research assignments and have been taught how to safely navigate on the internet using databases and reliable websites.” His favorite aspect of technology is the fact that it allows for greater differentiation among students. “[They] can all access an article on the same topic, but then it can be customized to meet their reading level. Students who need reading support can also have websites read to them. “
Technology also has a place in the arts. CMS Art teacher Nate Tompkins has students use their laptops for things like value exercises or to research and replicate certain artists. At MHS, Drama students use voice and video technology to record and critique their own performances, and band teacher Andy Forster’s Music Production is completely based around digital music technology.
Using technology to learn a foreign language is pretty common practice these days, but MHS Spanish teacher Eunice Loredo goes above and beyond to create a scaffolding of tech to support and augment her students’ classroom experience. “For me, the use of technology it is a fun way to create a language lab,” said Loredo. “There are sites, apps, and programs that I use as tools to customize my lessons and create resources and activities. Students participate and are engaged when we use technology in the classroom.” She uses programs to help students practice their vocabulary, to help with language structure, and to provide opportunities for listening and speaking practice after hours. All of these tools help students learn in their own way at their own pace.