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ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL


July/August 2013

Practical PR: How technology is changing the grade school classroom
By Gail Kahover

Gail Kahover is the director of communications for Northbrook School District 27 and a member of the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association.

The traditional image of the classroom teacher, standing in front of the blackboard with chalk in hand, has gone the way of the Norman Rockwell painting. It’s quaint, charming and somewhat nostalgic, but not really representative of today’s modern classroom.

Today’s classroom is more likely to be equipped with interactive whiteboards, where the teacher and students engage in lessons right on the projection screen; and tablet computers, where students practice skills using interactive applications (also known simply as apps). With access to the Internet, a world of information is open to our students.

But this classroom is far from static. It will continue to reinvent itself as technology changes and new tools emerge.

In Northbrook District 27, the Board of Education has been very supportive of the administration’s plans to keep on top of ever-changing technology. The district regularly updates its technology plan to incorporate new innovations, and provides a comprehensive framework for research and implementation.

For the past three years, the district has had a one-to-one initiative at Wood Oaks Junior High School where each student is provided with a computer device (most recently a Lenovo PC computer) for conducting research and collaborating with their peers. Students in grades 3-5 at Shabonee School have access to carts of laptops and netbooks, allowing them one-to-one computer access. And students in grades kindergarten through second at Hickory Point School use iPads and laptops as part of their everyday learning.

This immersion into technology has created a lot more collaboration in the classroom, says Kathy Wegley, an instructional technology coordinator in District 27, and a former fifth grade teacher.

In the past, if a group of students wanted to get together to work on a project, they would call each other up on the phone and set up a time to meet at someone’s house. The same group of students can now collaborate by turning on their laptops and accessing “ Google Docs.” This program allows multiple people to edit a document at the same time, from any location.

“The students have daily collaboration inside and outside of the school walls now to help each other study,” Wegley explained. “Without the technology, this would never have happened.”

The dividends don’t end with collaboration. Technology has allowed for more differentiation. Some shy students, for example, may be more comfortable making a book report by using a PowerPoint-type presentation and their recorded voice, or by making a video.

“Because there are a vast amount of technology resources available to students with programs, apps, and Web 2.0 tools, it allows teachers to differentiate to meet the needs of the students,” added Michelle Adams, another IT coordinator and former second grade teacher.

Differentiation is also evident when students work within discussion boards, sharing information about a topic with their peers and teachers. The shy students may shine in such a setting, allowing them to have a voice and the peers to hear new perspectives.

What will the classroom of the future look like? There are many opinions, but one thing is for certain. Our students are digital natives, meaning they are very comfortable floating in and out of different forms of technology. As public school leaders, we must be prepared.

The future may include:

• E-Learning Opportunities – This includes all types of electronically supported learning and teaching, which may eventually include online classes and virtual reality classrooms.

• Teaching with Games and Simulations – Research finds that games and simulations help students visualize complex tasks, such as the construction of buildings, and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects.

• Use of mobile devices in the classroom – Some high schools already allow the use of Smartphones so students can access the Internet for research and to hand in electronic files to teachers.

• BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) – Many of our students own iPads or other tablet devices. In fact, a survey this year by Harris Interactive on behalf of Pearson showed that one-third of all elementary, middle and high school students surveyed used a tablet device for their schoolwork. Among those, more than half used a device they owned personally.

Despite the changes in technology, Wegley and Adams say there is one thing in the classroom that will never change – the need for a strong and nurturing teacher.

“The students still will need the teacher to help them make the connections, and guide and facilitate them,” Wegley said. “They are free to explore their passions, but with the teacher at the helm as their guide.”

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