Technology in the School System
There is a technology revolution going on, one device at a time. Schools across the country are using multimedia—laptops, Smart boards, chat rooms, Google Earth—to teach kids from Kindergarten through high school. As a result, some schools have been consistently reporting an increase in test scores and a decrease in dropout rates.
Take the example of Mooresville High School outside Charlotte, North Carolina. A February 12th article in The New York Times illustrated how using laptops in the classroom has not only increased comprehensive learning, it has also leveled the educational playing field for underprivileged kids. Those students who, five years ago, might have dropped out are now excelling in their studies.
Here in Fairfield, technology has been gaining momentum in the school system. In the case of Timothy Dwight Elementary School, there is a 100% rate of Smart boards, or interactive white boards that use projectors and digital touch screens for information sharing, being used in the classroom. But as you continue to the other schools in town, the rate decreases. By the time you reach Roger Sherman Elementary School in the beach area, you have only a rate of seven Smart boards for the 22 classrooms.
Does that really make a difference? To a new committee of concerned parents, it does. Sherman Elementary recently launched ITEC, or Interactive Technologies Enhancing Classrooms. Their main focus is to encourage the use of interactive technology in class to grow the learning experience.
“When students are using technology as a tool, they are in an active role rather than the passive role as a recipient of information,” said Sara Kwon, Sherman’s PTA President, in a recent e-mail. “The Sherman ITEC committee is charged not only with the task of keeping a close eye on how technology is currently distributed and used in the district, but also to ensure we don't fall behind."
For those teachers that have a Smart board versus the teachers that do not, they can see a difference in how the curriculum can be taught. Lisa Merturi, a member of the ITEC Committee and a parent with two children at Sherman, relayed an account of two first grade teachers in adjacent classrooms. One had a Smart board; the other did not. The teacher with the Smart board could highlight text, insert material, separate word chunks, and look up a definition online all with the touch of a finger. The one without a Smart board was, frankly, a little jealous.
“With our busy lives, we think our kids are tech savvy because they can navigate an iPad or a Kindle,” said Merturi. “Think of how much money is spent in the average household on the latest technology, but we’re not doing it in our schools.”
Nancy Byrnes, the IT manager for the school district, said that technology provides a medium that allows students and teachers to become more engaged in the learning process. Essentially, it becomes self-directed learning.
“Teachers can guide kids based on how they learn,” says Byrnes. “Some kids learn visually, some audial. This allows kids to be learning 24/7 without realizing that they are actually learning.”
Carrie Sakey, another Sherman parent and member of the ITEC Committee, said she saw a presentation of the Smart board at Back to School Night for her son’s class. She loved it. That presentation was the catalyst for the launch of ITEC.
But Byrnes also noted that the committee’s goal is a bit “myopic.” While she contends that they have a great initiative, she feels their sole Smart board focus is shortsighted. As far as she’s concerned, there is more to how technology can enhance the learning process than that. Byrnes says technology is about incorporating integrative multi-media. But the big question there is how best to do that while maintaining control over how the students utilize it.
She talked about a “BYOD,” or Bring Your Own Device, concept. This is something that a number of schools have already begun to implement, as in the case of Mooresville. But how do you manage surfing on the Internet? And what about the kids that can’t afford their own device? Who gets online access and how much of it?
“There’s a debate as to whether or not to block YouTube and Facebook or not,” she said. “There’s no perfect solution.”
YouTube, easily accessed from the Internet on the Smart board, can be just as much of an education tool as anything else, if used correctly. Kids studying the flight pattern of an African swallow will retain more information about that topic if they’ve seen a real-time video stream on the same subject to supplement the lesson. By the same token, kids can also download iTunes just as easily as they can update their Facebook status. And that’s the bigger issue with BYOD.
Assuming all goes well at Sherman, there’s still one small problem with furnishing every classroom with a Smart board: there’s no money in the budget. The PTA has been informed that there will be no money allocated for technology for the next two years. So, ITEC is planning on fundraising to cover the costs.
But that means drawing in a total close to $60,000. They will start with the fifth grade and work their way down. Although it’s a pretty big hurdle to overcome, they have managed to raise over $8,000 with just 40 donors so far.
In the meantime, the committee has a web site and soon they hope to set up a link on Facebook so people can make donations online. If you would like to donate, visit their site and click on the tab provided. One click can make a difference in a child’s education.