Innovative ways schools giving digital natives tools they need

Computers are no longer a one-size-fits-all teaching tool, confined to a designated “computer lab” within the school. Instead, schools are finding unique ways to enhance learning — and the ways these state-of-the-art teaching tools are being used are evolving as fast as the technology itself.

“Technology is just one of the many tools that our teachers and students incorporate into the learning that goes on here at St. A’s,” says Mary Quish, assistant principal and technology director at St. Athanasius School in Evanston.

At St. Athanasius School, students use technology in a variety of ways, from using a Bible app to engage second-graders in Biblical stories to using PowerPoint and other applications to create science fair projects. Smart Boards are used to reinforce concepts in classrooms, and even in physical education classes, iPhone apps are used to track students’ heart rates and videos are made to critique technique.

And those are just a few ways that technology is integrated into the day-to-day activities of the students, Quish says.

“When we first created our technology plan years ago, our goal was to create an environment where technology was integrated seamlessly into the curriculum to enrich our students’ learning experience. … We are certainly well on our way to achieving that goal.”

At Fusion Academy, the student-to-teacher ratio is one to one, and uses technology to keep track of every student’s individualized learning plan through a personalized learning management system accessible by the students, teachers, parents and the students’ support team.

“We are lovers of technology and use it in every class and classroom, but it differs from student to student,” says Lindsey Ciochina, head of school for Fusion Chicago’s downtown campus. Fusion has three campuses opening this year for sixth- through 12th-graders. “Everyone has access to laptops, and we have some pretty advanced technology in our science labs. But our learning management system has been completely tailored to how we teach.”

In addition to academic goals, Fusion’s technology can track individualized goals, whether they are social, organizational goals, or executive functioning goals. At the end of the day, an email is generated for the parents and the students’ lead teachers.

“What I think is so unique is that it allows goal-setting that’s not just academic, but also other elements of the students’ progress and wellness and long-term success,” Ciochina says. “It is essential to have a daily record and have transparent communication between the student, parent and whole school community. Without this communication process, we would all sink.”

At Roycemore School in Evanston, students in the 3D Ambassadors Club talk with teachers about what they need for their classrooms and then use the 3D printer to create things for their teachers. One example of this was a third-grade teacher who asked the club to create a model of an ear that she could use in a class. The students created a model of all the parts that illustrated how they all fit together, says Elizabeth Shutters, coordinator of educational technology and professional development.

“Our vision for technology use is that it’s essential for today’s learning, and our mission for the school is that we want to prepare students for the future and help them meet their needs as learners,” she says. “To us, it’s not about the technology they use, but how they use it. The 3D Ambassadors Club, for example, teaches students to work collaboratively with their teachers to find a need and then meet it.”

In addition, several teachers are “flipping” their lessons, meaning students watch a video lecture at home and then use class time to do the more traditional “homework.”

“When they get to school, they’ve already heard the lesson so at school, they can use their time better by doing projects and asking and answering questions,” she says. “In French class, for example, they can work on pronunciation of new words, or they have the ability to go back and watch lectures over again if they need to. It’s been very helpful for a lot of students.”

At Catherine Cook School in Chicago, a 2,000-square-foot former library has become the IDEA Lab (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Art). It is filled with state-of-the-art technology, including 3D printers, sewing machines, a laser cutter, and an interactive display wall made of 12 HD television sets. There are also traditional shop tools, as well as robotics equipment.

“This has really become the hub of another stage of learning,” says JD Pirtle, director of innovation at Catherine Cook. “We start our 3-year-old, pre-literate learners on things like robotics and programming and circuitry. This isn’t just a place for older students.”

For example, 3-year-olds learned how to use iPads to create 3-D models of snowflakes they then printed, becoming a tangible object that was first created in their imagination. Older students were given a crank and bell and told to create a Rube Goldberg device. Fifth-grade math students sew quilts as they study perimeter and area.

“This lab is really empowering and shows our students we are all perpetual learners. If we don’t know how to do something, we can figure it out together,” he says.

At Resurrection High School in Chicago, the Innovation Lab is a “maker-space” for the students.

“It’s a location for students to come in and participate in peer-to-peer learning, where they can try lots of different kinds of technology in a hands-on environment. They can learn through trial and error, and really be creative,” says Joe Lascon, instructional technologist at Resurrection. The tools include 3D printers, robotics equipment, photo editing and graphic design technologies. “We wanted to make sure we had things that appealed to everyone, and not just students who were tech-savvy already.”

The object of the lab is to give the students at the all-girls school a way to explore all the STEM-related career fields they could consider, says Kathleen Heneghan, the school’s principal. In addition to using the lab as part of their classwork, students also staff the lab, under the supervision of a teacher.

“We built this lab to coincide with our increased STEM offerings, including tech courses like Intro to Computer Science,” Lascon says. “We also have engineering principles, and a robotics club. We have a larger technology goal, but when we talk about technology here, we focus on how technology can help learn and develop skills. We want to move from being consumers of information to creative owners and producers of knowledge.”

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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