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Cutting Edge Classroom Part I: Technology tools of the teaching trade

Glacier Park fifth graders (right to left) Lillian Kilgallon, Kyla Peda and Alyssa Olds watch a video they created using an iPad. The class was able to obtain the iPads through a grant.  - TJ Martinell, The Reporter
Glacier Park fifth graders (right to left) Lillian Kilgallon, Kyla Peda and Alyssa Olds watch a video they created using an iPad. The class was able to obtain the iPads through a grant.
— image credit: TJ Martinell, The Reporter

By TJ Martinell and Sarah Kehoe

tmartinell@maplevalleyreporter.com, skehoe@kentreporter.com

It wasn’t too long ago when classroom instruction was almost devoid of any technology.

Educators in both the Kent and Tahoma school districts are slowly, but surely, adapting to the use of technology for lesson planning, teaching as well as tools for their students.

Kimberly Allison, an instructional technology coach, has worked in the Tahoma School District for 19 years, first teaching at Tahoma High. Although there was a computer lab, she said, none of the teachers had their own personal computers. The Internet had been invented by 1993, but, it was still in its infancy.

Even then the use of technology was based on traditional learning. When Allison took her class to the computer lab, it was merely to type up reports, rather than write in pencil or pen. If a student needed to do research on a subject, he had to go to the library, search through the catalog and then locate the actual book.

“When I taught in high school, it was about using physical resources in a physical building,” Allison said. “It was an automative process, but it didn’t change anything. Technology was just the tool.”

Allison said she remembers going to an information session for teachers in the mid-1990s, where the use of the Internet was discussed. Ironically, at the time, it didn’t appear to her as though it would be anything more than another tool.

Now, it is nearly impossible to find a classroom in the Kent or Tahoma schools without some new technology, whether it is in the form of iPads, netbooks, laptops, interactive whiteboards or data management systems, all of which are connected to the Internet.

Kent school district staff are already researching new technology they can implement in schools for the 2014 levy.

“We really want our students’ learning to be more interactive, which can be done through many emerging technology,” said Thuan Nguyen, chief information and automated operations officer for the district’s information technology department. “We feel it is our responsibility to match what is going on in our society. Our society is becoming more technological and digital, meaning we need these same tools in our classroom so that our students can graduate and be successful in the real world.”

Technology the school district is considering includes Apple iPads, laptops for every student, incorporating all textbooks to be online in a PDF file and Kinect for Xbox 360, which brings games and entertainment to life without using a controller.

“Kids today have access to computers and games, they don’t learn the same way they used to in the past,” Nguyen said. “Having students get up and interactively learn is much more efficient today.”

Nguyen believes teachers in the future might use augmented reality to teach their students. Augmented reality is a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video and graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer.

“This next levy will be from 2014-2018, which means we have to think about what technology might be available at that time when we make our decisions,” Nguyen said. “We must always look ahead.”

Right now the district is operating from the 2010 levy, which allowed them to issue laptops to middle school and ninth grade students.

“We have found this change to be extremely positive at our schools,” Nguyen said. “The teachers have told us that attendance has gone up and they see their kids studying on their laptops before class starts.”

 

TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM

A 21st century classroom looks much different than what anyone over 30 experienced 15 or 20 years ago.

In many regards, much of what goes on in a modern classroom is conducted online.

Both Tahoma and Kent schools use Moodle, which allows teachers and students alike to utilize the Internet for classroom work that would have normally been done with pen and paper. For teachers, they are able to build personal websites, post articles and assignments, as well as homework. They are also able to set weekend tests or quizzes for students to take, which can be graded instantly, as well as provide data to the teacher about how the students did on various questions. This allows teachers to focus on concepts in class which were a struggle for students as well as design tests in a way that works better for the kids.

Kelli Sapean-Proctor, a Spanish teacher at Kentwood High, has been teaching for 20 years. She said the difference between her first year and now is “night and day.”

“There’s so much you can do now,” she said. “You’re not limited to a book anymore.”

For her freshman students, who all have laptops, Proctor said much of the textbook is found online and she only issues the book to students who specifically request it. Through Moodle she is able to post

her electronic planner which contains all of the classwork for the week. She also stated that Moodle has benefited her and the students most in terms of instant feedback on their work. Rather than wait until the assignment is graded, they are given immediate results, which allows them to go back and make corrections. This also allows the students to work at a more independent pace. Depending on what classroom, some use specific software or technology in order to teach their curriculum more effectively.

Proctor, for example uses a program called DyKnow, which allows her to monitor and manage the students’ laptops. She can use the program to bring up a certain website on her students’ laptop screens, while at the same time blocking all other sites from access to ensure they are not surfing the web. She can also cause all the laptop screens to go blank while she has something on the whiteboard to show them. Thomas Riddell is the coordinator for the Kent Technology Academy, which works with Mill Creek Middle School students. He agrees with Nguyen about the kids’ progress since the laptops have been issued.

“What is so important about each student having a laptop is what the computer can do for the kids,” Riddell said. “For example, most Mill Creek teachers use an online virtual classroom. Because of this, anything I present in class is posted to the virtual classroom and is available for students to review after class and at home. This is great while completing homework, developing projects, or sharing what they learned at school with their parents.”

All Kent School District’s students have access to desktops in computer labs, libraries, and classrooms, wireless laptops, SMART Board interactive whiteboards in every classroom, SMART Response remotes to reply to teacher questions “game show style,” digital probeware and microscopes for science and health, digital cameras to record video and still pictures. Through the computers, students can use a wide variety of software tools to complete class projects and assignments. Almost every classroom in the district has a SMART Board installed. Many teachers use these interactive whiteboard to give students hands-on, minds-on learning experiences. Kent is also subscribed to Discovery Education Streaming, a website which has thousands of videos on many topics that tie directly into their curriculum.

“My classroom contains a production studio which allows for live broadcasts to be produced as well as students to “travel back in time” through the use of a green screen and editing software,” Riddell said. “The kids love it.”

Jamie Mercer, a seventh grade special education teacher at Tahoma Middle School, for example, uses V-Port, an online data management system which performs several functions suitable for her special education needs. She is able to upload all student results on tests and assignments to it, while students have access to class work material when they go home for the day.

She also uses Activboards, interactive white boards with access to various software programs, such as word processors, as well as the Internet. With V-Port, she is able to watch student progress with graphs and charts, which are more visually appealing for parents interested in seeing their child’s progress in the class. The online system also improves teacher-parent communication by allowing teachers like Mercer to instantly send student reports to parents upon request. Technology also helps teachers provide students opportunities to acquire skills that have a transparent applicability to the real world.

The video production course at Tahoma High taught by Rick Haag is an Apple Certified Training Center where students are able to become Apple certified for certain industries that use Apple software. This certification can be put on a resumé and placed on their websites.

Rick Haag stated that the school has updates included in the software licenses so that the programs the students use are the newest and latest version.

There can be downsides.

The rapid pace in technological advances can easily make updated equipment obsolete within a few years — an issue the Tahoma School District has to face with its netbooks. One of the district’s goals is to accurately predict what will have the greatest cost-benefit based on its perceived longevity.

“The question is what is the best thing and is it worth it,” said Walt Szklarski, Instructional Technology Coordinator who worked as a teacher at Cedar River Middle School six years ago.

Rick Haag stated that while it is critical to make their students prepared, predicting future technological trends can be risky for the school district financially.

“If you don’t have your hands on it you don’t know how to use it,” he said. “But you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a product and then say, “Oh, we don’t need it.’ Our district is very money-conscious. They don’t want to waste people’s money.”

Another issue they have to contend with is a gap between tech-savvy teachers — for whom the change is a welcome one — and those who struggle to adapt, according to Mercer.

“I’m a digital native,” she said. “It’s a lot of having no fear in exploring it myself. It’s far easier for someone like me who’s grown up in technology.”

Fortunately for those teachers who have difficulties there is a teacher at every Tahoma school, known as a tech leader, who specifically helps the faculty learn how to use new equipment as it is integrated into the classroom.

“Like anything, it takes time to change, because the teachers need to learn it,” Rick Haag said. “As a career, our purpose is to educate kids in how to prepare with the industry, so we have to stay current.”

Each Tahoma school has a person from the Department of Technology Operations, who repairs and maintains the equipment and the wireless Internet.

Technology use in Kent schools also has advantages and disadvantages.

“I believe that technology is extremely beneficial for students,” said Rebecca Keene, teacher and program specialist for the Kent School District. “I think it is difficult to argue otherwise after reading the research behind increased technology access for students and the trends in other countries to providing Internet access as a basic human right. Many of the disruptive behaviors we see that come from technology are similar behaviors to what we might see in an environment with less technology. Students who are bored, unengaged, unmotivated, or disruptive may act inappropriately in any situation, whether they have increased access to technology tools or not. We do see that students who are involved.”

Kent-Meridian High School Principal Wade Barringer had a different opinion.

“I think technology can be both useful to students and a distraction,” he said.

Riddell believes it’s all in how the technology is utilized in the classroom.

“Putting great technology in a classroom does not instantly mean that a great education will be provided,” he said. “But, when fully embraced by the teacher and students, the walls of the classroom disappear and the possibilities are endless. Students are no longer hindered by limited resources because access to anything and everything is at their fingertips 24 hours a day.  Technology allows each student to take ownership in his or her education and focus on what they desire to learn.”

 

AVANTE GUARD

Some teachers such as Tahoma physical educator instructors Jeana Haag and Tracy Krause are helping to define how new technology can affect classrooms.

Jeana Haag and Krause, who use an iPad 2 for their P.E. classes, recently gave presentations at the Seattle’s Best West Conference on the use of iPads in physical education.

“Really, because of the mobile situation, it’s perfect for us,” Jeana Haag said. “Aside from the daily stuff, it’s right there in our hands. We can have student scores at any time.”

At Glacier Park Elementary fifth grade science and social studies teacher Brandon Betlach was able to obtain iPads for the students in his classroom due to a grant proposal he promoted. He began teaching the students how to use them in late September and now uses them as a part of science experiments.

Among the most noticeable changes technology has brought to the classroom has been in communication and organization. Rather than have to spend hours transcribing the grades of pencil-written homework assignments or test results onto a computer, netbooks and laptops, in addition to online assignments, enable teachers to spend more time teaching.

Mercer said that it also allows teachers to direct their students from home if needed due to an emergency or illness as long as they have Internet access.

In Jeana Haag’s P.E. classes, the iPad, with its Internet access, can provide video instructions for various activities out on the track, or record a student’s test to show their form or posture. The teacher can also immediately record their times and statistics on the spot, which aids in accuracy.

“From the teacher’s side, management and presentation are easier,” Jeana Haag said. “We don’t have to worry about getting grades in, getting things down from our clipboards. It’s a big time saver for us.”

Betlach said that is helps not only the teacher, but the students be more creative. While working on building in-class telegraphs, they use the iPads to record their work, which are then used to build presentations on Keynote. They can also use the iPads to access information online, such as NASA’s website or use GoogleEarth when studying geography.

“It’s not a cookie cutter, here’s a test type thing,” he said. “They have more control on exploring their learning.”

Part II will examine how students use technology as tools in the classroom in a wide variety of ways. It will be published in the March 16 issue of the Reporter.

Reach TJ Martinell and Sarah Kehoe at 425-432-1209 ext. 5052 or 253-872-6600 ext. 5056.

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