Making the Grade
Today’s parents remember a much different classroom than the one in which their kids are learning today. Some of us may, at best, retain vague memories of computer labs stocked with Apple IIes running at a snail’s pace off a single server.
Not surprisingly, the technology put to use in a modern classroom is vastly different, and it is evolving at a rapid pace. The technology a grade school student uses today will be obsolete by the time they graduate from college. This raises questions of how schools are keeping up with the cycle of increasingly sophisticated technology, and how students are learning to adapt to the ever-changing world of computers.
Rudi Gesch is the Director of Marketing at Timothy Christian School, which has purchased a total of 35 Smart Boards for their classrooms. The Smart Board is a touch-sensitive digital chalkboard that synchronizes the teacher’s computer and projects their desktop onto an interactive screen. With this tool, the learning environment transforms from a typical chalkboard into a fully immersive experience.
"It’s a pretty simple concept," says Gesch. "Where it takes the next leap is the software, which is tailored specifically for the educational experience." The school has already utilized the new technology to improve a lesson where the class studies the heart. They use the Smart Board as an interactive game where they must put a heart together from individual pieces.
The Smart Boards also have a digital protractor for math that can measure the angles of a triangle drawn on the screen. You can even use it like a traditional chalkboard by hand-writing words and letting the board digitize them for you.
The technology used in Smart Board is not new. The idea has been floating around for over ten years, but it wasn’t until recently that schools have truly embraced them as a developing concept of the future. Adrianna Mourgelas, Director of Marketing at Morgan Park Academy, says that many of their classrooms are using the Smart Board technology and getting positive results. "The touch screen really excites the students," explains Mourgelas. "It helps them immerse themselves in the lesson."
Another strategy put into action at Morgan Park Academy is the employment of a Director of Technology. The director’s sole job is to interact with developers in order to keep the school’s technological doors open, and their learning materials current.
Morgan Park Academy has also reached out on a global scale. They have recently affiliated with TREAMIS World School in Bangalore, India, which is the new center of technology for the world. They are hoping in the next year to implement interactive lessons and cooperative projects with TREAMIS students overseas.
Of course, learning is not all about interactive blackboards. School networks have become a large part of the future of education as well. Phil Schwartz is the Academic Dean at Lake Forest Academy, where they have made their entire campus wireless.
"There is file sharing and file storage for every student and teacher," says Schwartz. "They can access their email account from anywhere, and every teacher has their own webpage."
Lake Forest Academy’s technology provides a great example of the immediacy new educational software has provided teachers. With the use of wireless connections and the web, students can have 24 hour access to classroom materials, study preparation and personal assistance when stuck on an assignment.
The Latin School of Chicago has done a fantastic job keeping their technology current. They have over 600 computers operating on a fiber-optic gigabit backbone with internet access. Their classrooms are all up to date – each one is equipped with audio-video presentation equipment, which includes a digital projector, computer, speakers and a DVD player.
Although their technology is already quite impressive, don’t assume they are going to stop there. The Latin School of Chicago’s next step is to install Smart Boards in 100% of their classrooms. Because their current computer labs are not teaching classrooms, they are also looking to implement a greater number of student computers.
This year, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy implemented a 1 to 1 Program, which provides an environment where students and teachers have access to a notebook computer and digital content at all times. Each student entering their sophomore year gets a convertible tablet computer, which can access the internet and the school’s network from anywhere in the building.
Chief Information Officer, Jim Gerry, says they view the new technology as both a thinking tool and an extension of the mind. "We are finding the ability to cross the boundaries of distance and time," says Gerry. "Students can research and work together in different places. They can connect with people in other places and other countries."
Most important, however, is the fact that the school is not entering into this new program with a blind eye. Christopher Glenn, the Instructional Technology Designer, helps teachers implement the program into their classrooms.
"Teachers and students have been trained on how to get the 1 to 1 initiatives working," says Glenn. "Without adequate support, the teachers would have difficulty implementing the process."
Not only is the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy orchestrating their own internal program, but they are also helping the external programs of other schools as well. Currently, they work with 17 schools across the state of Illinois that have 1 to 1 programs.
Another facet of the modern classroom can be seen at St. Clement School, which has been educating fine young minds for over 100 years. Over time, their classrooms have seen many different stages of educational technology.
Recently they purchased a rolling cart computer lab that contains 25 IBooks with wireless capability. It can be brought into any classroom. Faculty member Debby Zachara explains the advantages of their new purchase. "Instead of having the students go to the computer lab, the computer lab is brought to them."
St. Clement School also keeps the computer curriculum age appropriate. The youngest kids start out with basics, such as learning to operate a mouse. Fourth graders learn keyboarding, and sixth graders are learning how to make their own website.
Zachara also spoke about the current state of technology in the classroom. "We have gone from students doing reports on note cards to composing them entirely on the computer," explains Zachara. "Back in the day, we did Carmen Sandiego. Now they can do all types of research."
Technology in the Classroom has expanded to break the boundaries of space and time, and there are certainly more changes coming in the near future. Software and wireless networks no longer require peers to always be in the same classroom.
There is, however, one thing that most educators seem to agree on. Technology should never fully substitute the learning experience, but rather function as a learning aid. There are traditional approaches to teaching that will never be completed eradicated, if only because they are proven to be effective. In the end, it is always more about learning than about technology.