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20 Nov 2013

Know Your Neighbors: How Technology Is Changing Education

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Know Your Neighbors: How Technology Is Changing Education http://www.flickr.com/photos/scobleizer/5492884560/in/photostream/ via Wikipedia.

Higher-education degrees are increasingly based on what you can do rather than how long you sit in a classroom, so it is pertinent to ask how technology is affecting K-12 education.

A recent symposium, “Literacy Summit 4,” held at Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus, brought together four teachers showcasing their efforts to incorporate computer-based learning into their lesson plans.

The east valley’s Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) has made the news based on its ambitious goal of providing 18,000 iPads to its students. Katherine Quintana, who teaches at Coral Mountain Academy in Coachella, has already begun using the iPads under the CVUSD pilot program. Quintana has co-produced a short video documenting the project’s use by 120 teachers in CVUSD classrooms.

“The capabilities are endless,” says Quintana. “Students are empowered to find their own answers to questions. It’s instantaneous, spontaneous and exciting—a change-based learning model that supports critical-thinking skills where students can confront real-world problems, and teachers can more easily track student proficiencies.”

Apps such as Brain Pop provide students with instant feedback on their progress using animated lessons in science, social studies, English, math, engineering, health, art, and music. Google Earth lets students see the world they’re studying. Educreations enables students to create their own presentations and work collaboratively on projects.

Quintana says, “For the most part, it has been hugely positive. I’m not a real techie person—I was pretty much ‘old school.’ But this was a great opportunity to just jump into the pilot program and realize that we have kids capable of teaching their teachers and each other. It really helps teachers be better teachers.”

But what about local schools that do not have the same broad policy of incorporating technology by providing iPads to all students?

Karen Foerch taught fifth-grade last year in the west-valley Palm Springs Unified School District. She is now a technology specialist, teaching other teachers how to use technology in their classrooms.

“The classroom-management apps are particularly valuable,” Foerch says, “whether to track student performance and be able to provide instant feedback for students and parents, or to be able to contact parents directly so that they can manage students’ homework assignments and deadlines.”

Foerch found the use of technology actually improved the attention span of students with attention-deficit issues. “The technology approach to presenting material fits right in with how many students think,” she says. “That’s how their brains work.”

Applications like Class Dojo help teachers manage their classrooms, including tracking behaviors so that students and parents can access results without having to wait for formal teacher/parent conferences. Grade Cam gives teachers the ability to streamline time-consuming test-scoring and grade-reporting. Remind 101 lets teachers text students and parents en masse with updates on assignments and homework.

Foerch maintains, “It’s all about saving time and giving teachers more time to teach.”

Another app Foerch recommends to teachers is iBrainstorm, which lets students capture ideas instantly, organize them and share them with other students to collaborate on projects. “Using applications like this allows students to manage their own time,” Foerch says.

Then there’s Science 360, which immerses students in critical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills and enables them to research materials that enhance their classroom learning.

Foerch uses apps like Dragon Dictation, helping students convert speech into text for improvements in writing and reading skills. It’s particularly helpful for students who are English-language learners.

Other helpful apps include Quizlet, which lets students create their own flash cards to facilitate studying, and Bluster, used by fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders to expand vocabulary skills.

Teachers Wende Hamann and Kelly Fitchpatrick teach humanities, language arts and social studies at Palm Desert Charter Middle School.

“The kids aren’t intimidated by all this,” says Hamann. “We need to learn the culture and how to implement these programs in our classrooms.”

Apps available via Google allow teachers to simplify grading and track assignments in student folders that are then accessible by parents. “Kids are learning, and we’re learning,” says Hamann. “A computer-based curriculum also allows us to teach what it means to be a good ‘digital citizen’ so that students realize that what they do on-line will be seen by others.”

Flipping the classroom,” based on the Khan Academy approach, is another innovation in K-12 education. Students watch videos of their teacher’s presentation of lessons as homework, and then classroom time is focused on research, problem-solving and group work. Students can more easily go back and review something to better understand the material, rather than missing an important concept in a traditional lecture format.

In a flipped classroom—increasingly being incorporated in schools across the country—the teacher is seen less as “the sage on the stage” and more as the “guide on the side.”

The world of education is changing rapidly. With more than 20,000 apps applicable to K-12 education already available, finding the right ones for a particular teacher and classroom can be a daunting prospect. Teacher websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, allow teachers to share information with other educators across the country. Many apps are free or available at very low cost, and according to the four teachers at “Literacy Summit 4,” they are well worth the effort.

Pat Fredericks, a member of Cal State University Associates, a CSUSB-PD support group, said in her opening remarks at the symposium, “There is a demonstrated need for these programs in the Coachella Valley. Applied technology helps promote technological literacy as well as program development.”

CSUSB-PD has opened the Porter Resource Room on the third floor of the Indian Wells Building, providing resources for history and social studies for kindergarten through sixth-grade, all aligned to the recently adopted core-curriculum standards.

If you haven’t visited a classroom recently, stop bemoaning the state of American education—and find out for yourself how technology is changing the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn.

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