Students give school board a tech talk

Ridgefield’s public schools are preparing their students for a world that doesn’t even exist yet.

That was the message Craig Tunks, the district’s director of technology and operations development, delivered during an hourlong technology in education presentation at the Board of Education meeting to a room of more than 25 people recently.

He was helped in his message by several students who also spoke to the board.

“There’s a lot of talk among educators about technology in the classroom, weaving diverse forms of media into curriculums and gathering information from the Internet,” said Mr. Tunks. “As a district, our goal is to get students ready for a world that doesn’t exist — the world our kindergartners will inherit one day.

“And we have to work in that direction together.”

He stressed the core four principles of the International Society for Technology in Education — communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

Teachers and students from Scotland Elementary School, East Ridge Middle School and Ridgefield High School assisted Mr. Tunks in his annual technology report to the board, displaying real-life classroom applications.

Pam Lavender, a fourth grade teacher at Scotland, and one of her students, Ella Kagan, discussed the concept of “flipping the classroom,” which provides students mini video lessons, known as “Educreations,” to watch outside the classroom.

Ms. Lavender said her students watch the videos at home and when they come to school the next day, she’s able to check their comprehension of a certain subject right away.

She added that her instructions for a particular assignment are delivered online and questions are posted along with the video to answer after the students have watched the lesson. “They can check their answers against mine, and I’ve found that my kids are eager to watch videos at home,” she said. “I am able to maximize my time in the classroom with them so much better.

“This is cutting-edge and innovative technology that needs to be implemented across the board.”

Ella said that technology in the classroom has many benefits, including watching a lesson in repetition, allowing her parents to watch with her, and making her own videos with friends to show she understands a subject.

“Kids feel as if I’ve come into their home to teach,” Ms. Lavender said.

She concluded that she was working to expand “flipping the classroom” to all classes.

Scott Wallace, a science teacher at RHS, showed the board how Google technology has helped him teach chemistry more effectively and efficiently.

He said that before the 2012-13 school year, a majority of the projects he assigned were papers and that he was concerned this was an “inefficient method — research, write, grade.”

However, this year, the projects he has assigned have been made all virtual with no paper materials, thanks to Google applications, such as Google Docs, that allow students to access information from anywhere and to collaborate all at the same time.

“The efficiency Google technology provides both students and teachers with won’t make learning chemistry any easier,” he joked. “But I can now spend more time teaching more interesting tasks and less time on tedious items.”

One of those tedious items is lab reports, which Mr. Wallace said he’s been able to switch into an all-digital process.

“The formerly dreaded lab reports are now easy to access, easy to edit and easy to grade,” he said. “I can return the document to the student edited and graded immediately.

“It’s seamless interconnectivity,” he added. “And it’s a piece of cake to set up.”

Mr. Wallace concluded that in addition to his chemistry classes, Google applications have helped him facilitate student government elections, which he controls at the high school, into being “paperless” and “secured, completely online.”

East Ridge Middle School Spanish teacher Karen McGown joined eighth grader Aneeka Britto to tell the board how technology is being used to teach foreign language skills.

Ms. McGown assigned her students to create a digital “how to” presentation to help them learn informal commands and apply them in a real-world situation.

Aneeka played the board members her video project “How to make a Valentine’s Day Card” using Spanish commands.

When board members asked if she felt Spanish was easier to learn and more fun to practice with the presence of technology, Aneeka said the process of making a video project at home allowed her to have time to learn the language and then apply it to her project with a “creative and unique touch.”

Ms. McGown added that the video project provides both students and teachers with many positive outcomes.

“Technology in the classroom helps eliminate performance anxiety, which happens a lot when a student is trying to speak a world language to his or her classmates,” she said. “Also, it’s easier for me to correct them and highlight what pronunciations they are having a difficult time understanding.”

While video projects help teach her teach the curriculum day to day and month to month, she said, the digital impact in the classroom can be seen over a longer period of time.

“Our goal is for students to have digital portfolios that start in sixth grade and show everything they’ve created in their three years here,” Ms. McGown said. “This way they can see the progress they’ve made with a particular language and carry that with them to the high school.”

After the three presentations were given, Mr. Tunks returned to the board and answered any additional questions they had about technology in the district.

One board member quipped that technology was becoming so advanced that it one day may replace the teacher in the classroom.

Mr. Tunks assured the board that all the progress they had just seen wouldn’t have been possible without the teachers’ mastery  of the new technology.

“Technology is not designed to be the teacher,” Mr. Tunks concluded. “We still need great teachers to make this work, and I think we have plenty of them here.”

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