Technology becoming everyday occurrence in today's classrooms
Jonathan Higgins catches a car triggered by Shawn Smith Tuesday at Western Heights Middle School. The pair was measuring and graphing speed and distance covered via computer. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / April 7, 2012)
In another classroom, teams of students were calculating average speed using data gathered with carts on tracks, motion sensors and computer graphics.
Later, seventh-grade students sat on desks or stood up, their arms stretched toward the front of the classroom. Using what looked like a TV or Wii remote, students submitted answers to questions on a screen.
“If you move your seats, you can click in better,” teacher Amy Hilliard said.
The classrooms at Western Heights Middle and Fountaindale Elementary schools in Hagerstown in late February still had wooden desks and plastic chairs, and the sounds of energetic students chatting could be heard.
But in some respects, those classrooms have changed a lot, just since the days when the students’ parents were in school. Computerized technology has in some classrooms become a regular part of the school experience.
Hilliard said that when she first started teaching 15 years ago, there were desktop computers with no Internet access.
At Western Heights and Fountaindale, students in some of the classes visited were using desktop computers or small laptops that enabled students to move around the room as they sought a quiet corner or collaborated with other students.
There were no blackboards, erasers or chalk. Instead, these classrooms have electronic white boards, some of which could be operated with a handheld pad that has a touch screen.
Breaking down walls
Technology in a sense breaks down the traditional walls of the classroom and provides context for learning because it can allow students to see and interact in real time with a subject they are studying, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said.
Using technology in elementary through high schools also prepares students for college and careers in which the need to use technology has escalated, Wilcox said.
Wilcox likes to tell the story of the time a repairman came to his New Jersey home and, unable to explain a furnace outage, he reached not for his toolbox, but for his iPhone. He took a picture of the wire diagram, and superimposed it with another image to discover the problem.
“We have an obligation to teach our kids how to use very sophisticated technologies. We also have an obligation to make sure that all our kids have access to technologies so that no one is left behind in kind of the digital millennium, if you will,” Wilcox said during a March 6 school board discussion about social media.
Local educators have noticed that using technology engages students and holds their attention longer than traditional teaching methods such as lecturing, said Arnold Hammann, school system director of information management and instructional technology.
“The successful approach is a blend of traditional and using the technology appropriately,” Hammann said.
Keandre Johnson, a seventh-grader in Hilliard’s science class, said technology is revolutionizing what is being learned in the classroom.
“I’m pretty glad we have this technology because without that, we’d have to do it all on paper and pencil like most kids ’cause not everyone in the world has technology like we do,” Keandre said.
Hilliard said students use clickers to submit answers to questions that appear on a large screen, letting her know immediately which students understand the subject and which need more help.