By Jody Steinberg
While schools still use handwriting tablets in the primary grades, by high school, handwriting skills are becoming obsolete, as most schoolwork is computer generated and even e-mailed to the teacher.
Today’s students—used to communicating via e-mail, text messages and cell phones—find it difficult to write legibly on their SAT essays, one of the last remaining assignments requiring them to put pen to paper.
Just a generation ago, technology in schools meant calculators and televisions with VCRs. Today, interactive white boards, which connect to teacher and student computers and enable board work to be saved and published on the web at the push of a button, exemplify how technology is changing classroom dynamics.
Every student wants an iPod, so savvy teachers create and Podcast digital lessons, which can be downloaded to a portable player or any computer. Students work via the Internet, using “wikis” and other web-based tools to share data with classmates or with students from around the world.
Author Tom Friedman’s recent tome, The World is Flat, links ever-evolving technology to the globalization of business, culture, politics, knowledge, innovation and more. Access to people and knowledge across the shrinking world is the great equalizer of nations and classes, Friedman explains. He professes that technical and creative training is essential for anyone who wants to compete in this new world. His global take on the subject is why The World is Flat has become required reading for many educators.
The goal for most schools is in finding the balance between traditional teaching and integrating the technology and innovative thinking.
Educators unanimously agree that new technologies influence every aspect of education. From web strategies that increase school-home communication to laptop programs for primary students, the boundaries are constantly expanding. Selecting and acquiring the tools and training faculty to use them effectively consumes an increasing portion of the school budget, particularly in independent schools, where parents expect the most cutting-edge education for their students.
To understand how schools are using today’s advanced technologies we asked those schools advertising in our Education Guide to answer a two-part question:
“How are new technologies integrated into your school and your curriculum (teaching methods), and how have they impacted the way students are being taught in your school today? How do you anticipate technology will affect your school in the coming decade?”
The following are the responses we received from those schools.
Alfred and Adele Davis Academy
“The Davis Academy maintains technological competence through careful selection of the most appropriate technology, exceptional faculty training, continuous consultation, and the pace at which our technology is integrated,“ says Head of School, Sidney Kirschner. “New curriculum standards focus on building students’ confidence and proficiency to meet the demands of today’s technologically-dependent world. A five-day intensive educational technology course for teachers and an array of interactive tools — computers, SmartBoards, projectors, DVD players, video production equipment, etc., enhance learning and are used for research and presentations.
“The real challenge,” adds Kirschner, “is accessing the appropriate applications for specific educational goals,” which he predicts will eventually be as easy to find as resources in a library. “I see this orderly integration and eventual ease of locating Internet resources as the next big wave for technology.”
Rivercliff Lutheran School
Principal Kris Hoffman is focused on Rivercliff Lutheran School’s move to new facilities by the 2009-2010 school year. Technology is retrofitted for the current campus. The school has one computer for every 2.5 students. “With this ratio,” says Hoffman, “students receive sufficient computer time for educational games, Accelerated Reader, and word processing. We have a strong program that includes Music, Art, PE, Spanish and Writing Lab. From basic CD playing to creative PowerPoint presentations, our teachers are using technology to create vivid lessons.”
The Lovett School
“Students who have individual access to laptops are more productive and organized, and communicate better,” according to Lovett’s Educational Technology Leadership Team. This year, fourth graders each have a classroom laptop in a pilot program designed to improve literacy and writing skills and increase critical thinking and research skills. Teachers use interactive SMARTBoards, which connect to the laptops and enhance participation.
“Fourth graders provide a prototype for how a laptop program can work because they pick up on things very quickly,” said Lower School Principal Mary Baldwin. “In addition, our fourth grade teachers are very tech savvy.” Technology enhances the learning process, but traditional methods are also taught.
“The possibilities are endless,” says teacher Laurie Smilack. “Students can draft their English assignments immediately, pull up maps of the world for social studies lessons, access their math textbooks online … even track their fitness and compose their own music.”
One of the Epstein School’s fundamental building blocks is the belief that “an integrated curriculum reflects a real-life application of learning,” says Head of School Stan Beiner. “It means that we don’t teach English or math or any subject in isolation because that is not the way people use information. Technology is a tool –a means to an end. Each year, we add interactive computer boards to classrooms and spend more funds on training staff to use them effectively.” The school has a Principal of Media and Technology, students download Podcast History and Spanish lessons; and the Apple laptop center enables students to edit video streams,
To keep pace with the rapidly-changing technology, the school has created an infrastructure that enables staff to evaluate new educational tools, which Beiner anticipates will be more readily available and easy to use. Professional development will be a key component to successful use and learning of technical skills.
“At Woodward Academy, collaboration, connectivity, creativity are the mantras going forward at the school that has greatly expanded the role of electronic communication in all areas,” states Dr. Andrew Payne. “Class websites integrate homework, student/parent/teacher communication, class notes, websites, PowerPoint presentations, and all media that can be used to teach and learn. SmartBoards allow instant access to all of the material. Our students and teachers now work in a much-enriched world of materials, media, information, and communication.
“We anticipate this will be dramatically enhanced in the next few years with the much greater use of the collaborative and creative new “Web 2.0” technologies – Skype teleconferencing worldwide, Wiki projects, blogs, Podcasts, and other future capacities.”
This year, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School implemented a laptop program in the 5th, 8th and 10th grades. “Technology is thoroughly incorporated into students’ lives at home – they use it for research, homework and communicating, so we are responding by further engaging them in the classroom,” says Head of School Kirk Duncan. “The new program is already changing the way we teach and learn.
“The greatest effect technology will have is empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning,” adds Duncan. “Teachers will no longer be the purveyors of all knowledge and wisdom, but will become facilitators, creating a learning environment in which students seek answers to questions and real-world problems, exploring the internet for the common good. How can we airlift building materials from one Haitian village to build a new school? Help AIDS orphans in Tanzania? Increase recycling on our campus and in Sandy Springs?”
First Montessori School
Technology continues to be an integral part the Middle School curriculum at First Montessori School of Atlanta. Computers serve as principal modes for both acquisition of material and formal assessment. A campus-wide wireless network expands the experiential approach to learning, enabling students to perform experiments, check notes and record data both indoors and out. “Ultimately, our approach to technology maintains that the Internet and computers are tools that aid our most complex and effective machine, the human mind,” says Same Newman, Middle School humanities teacher.
“The value of technology to the individual learning style will continue to impact our ability to meet student need. In relation to curriculum, technology will be kept in balance with hands-on exploration,” explains the Interim Head of School, Jerri King. “Indiscriminate use of the Internet has contributed to student’s inability to synthesize data and an increasing gullibility to Internet-generated information, according to educator observations.”
“All curriculum can be taught through technology, but can it be taught well…better than in the traditional classroom? Our goal at Cumberland Academy is to provide the most sophisticated Educational Technology program and equipment for children with special needs in Georgia,” says Headmaster James Meffen. “We have some of the finest minds and resources developing ways to use instructional technology tools to meet the needs of children who learn differently: Cameras, CD players, PDA’s, GPS devices, computer-based probes, calculators, computers and electronic tools yet to be discovered will enable us to find teachable moments with students who typically are unmotivated in a conventional learning environment.
“The future as we integrate this field with education will be like an exciting science fiction movie, opening a whole new world for our students. Inculcating our children with a sense of curiosity sparked by the motivation created by technological developments guarantees us children that are life long learners…and what more can you ask?
Atlanta International School
“At Atlanta International School, we see technology as a means to an end. Instead of teaching technology in isolation, we integrate it throughout the curriculum,” says Dr. Robert Brindley, headmaster. “Teacher contact with students is always the primary mode of learning, with technology being used to cement skills and knowledge.
“The AIS foundations of internationalism, second language acquisition and the International Baccalaureate are primary; anything else must support these integral elements. For example, the Design Technology component will allow students to learn design skills and problem solving; the school is evaluating how technology supports each subject area and language instruction; electronic portfolios enable students to showcase their work in an electronic format; while electronic encyclopedias and databases enable all ages of students to retrieve information independently. AIS is also measuring the impact of interactive white boards in the classroom.”
Kumon Math and Reading
“While the world continues to technologically advance, Kumon Math and Reading Centers believe that nothing can replace the old-fashioned way of paper and pencil,” said Cynthia Smith-Flewllan, owner Kumon Math and Reading Center, Dunwoody. “Kumon’s own set curriculum and method of Individualized learning offers all students the capacity to gain superior basic academic abilities. Each child in the program can become proficient at setting his or her own goals, progress at his or her own pace, and strive to achieve each goal by studying the materials that are appropriate to his or ability, regardless of age and school grade.”
The Galloway School
“As an exceptional college preparatory school, Galloway is obligated to position our graduates for future successes at the college level and opportunities beyond. To gain a deeper understanding of this issue, our entire faculty read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat over the summer,” says new Head of School, Tom Brereton. “Obviously, the role of technology as a catalyst for creating a flat world is understood, but this strongly-held view that ‘flat does not mean equal’ suggests that Galloway students will enter a more challenging environment – technologically, economically, and politically – and they need to be prepared. For the next few years, we will increase training in technological applications while expanding knowledge bases in mathematics and science.”
Galloway’s advanced technology increases teacher and student proficiency with laptops, digital and video cameras, and multimedia creation and presentation software. Galloway is also in the process of creating a total wireless environment on campus.
Mount Vernon Presbyterian
”Mount Vernon Presbyterian School is reaching for Friedman’s version of globalization, in which technology is the tool that eliminates distance and connects everyone,” said Head of School Jeff Jackson. “Traditional teaching methods share the classroom with a hands-on approach for creative engagement, and technology helps students be active, involved learners, informed and prepared for their futures.” Lower school students apply computer learning to math, spelling, reading, science, social studies and more. Middle School students learn interactively via classroom SMART boards, multimedia presentations and DirecTV. Upper School students carry their own laptops across Mount Vernon’s campus, which is fully connected with a WI-FI system. They utilize the web, graphics, games, film, video, music, colors and sounds – the makings of a twenty-first century education.
Mount Vernon works to stay informed and up to date in the realm of rapidly-improving educational technology, and, hopes to develop local and international scholars that know and are aware of the technological advances when they enter the workforce.
Greenfield Hebrew Academy
“Technology education in schools is not an end in itself,” says Greenfield Hebrew Academy General Studies Principal Leah Summers. “It is a necessary tool that will enable our students to function effectively in a global community punctuated by change and growth.
“Technology has been integrated into every class to help teach and empower our students. We have SMART boards and voice amplification systems in our classrooms and purchased new software. Twenty-four faculty members attended the National Educational Computing Conference, which inspired and motivated them to increase their integration of technology into their classes in ways that will engage and challenge our students.”
Huntington Learning Center, Buckhead
“The incredible explosion of technology in the classroom today can support the efforts of teachers and help students learn,” said Judy Horton. “The Huntington Learning Center continuously reviews and adds new curricula to our center to stay abreast of changes in the education field.
“One of the hallmarks of Huntington Learning Centers is our ability to individualize our programs to meet the specific needs of each of our children and give them face-to-face attention.
“We encourage our students and our parents to use the Internet to access information, conduct research, supplement learning activities and broaden a child’s academic reach. We often direct students to the Association for Library Service to Children (www.ala.org/ala/alsc), which has created an online directory of ‘Great Web Sites for Kids.’ Our teachers also recommend age-appropriate websites that can be tapped for research, homework and classroom activities to our students and parents. “
“The advancement of technology offers great opportunities to students and faculty to gather information, make presentations, and transfer information more efficiently,” said Tim Hillen. “SMART boards in classrooms, new computers and technology courses ranging from basic keyboarding and PowerPoint to Advanced Placement Computer Science add to the school’s resources as well as to a solid college prep curriculum.
“Our website enables parents to survey their child’s total school record – from grades, to attendance, to completion of homework assignments, which greatly enhances parent/teacher communication. However, the school is also committed to the value of classroom discussion and personal relationships – and will continue to work to keep those priorities alive.
“We will continue to utilize the equipment that enhances classroom presentation – and teach courses that are important for students who matriculate to college equipped with a solid basis of skills relating to technology.”
University of Phoenix
”University of Phoenix is leveraging its digital technologies to help working students master critical thinking, problem-solving and other skills that are in greatest demand in the workplace and that keep companies on the cutting-edge of their industries,” said spokesman Steve Flatt. “In bringing these educational tools to the classroom, the University is positively impacting learning by making students effective consumers of information in today’s global, knowledge-based society. The next evolution of online learning at University of Phoenix is the development of The resource Centers. This reinforces the University’s philosophy of Thinking Ahead.”
The Howard School
“As a school for students with language difficulties, The Howard School teaches students metaphor and poetry using student-created film; organizational skills through computer resources (ie.Thesaurus online); global awareness using software that incorporates GPS with real-time mapping and global demographic information; communication skills through written exchanges with people outside of school; and text-to-speech and speech-to-text software,” stated Head of School Marifred Cilella.
“Information will become easier to use and communicate, and with more accessible and inexpensive small tools. In assistive technology (text-to-speech, speech-to-text) we anticipate an increased understanding and acceptance of students’ need for these tools, with no correlation to ability or intelligence or reduced college and professional opportunities.”
The Weber School
According to Nanci Pearson and Paul Ginburg, acting co-heads of school, “The Weber School’s new campus is fully integrated, but resources alone are not enough. Weber teachers are trained experts, comfortable with technology and skilled at using it to build interactive, engaged classrooms. Weber students often create new ways to use resources to enhance their learning. The entirely wireless campus features two technology labs, SMART boards, computers and ceiling-mounted digital projector in every classroom; computer-equipped media center, online research databases, digital photography and video equipment and classes, and a learning lab for extra assistance in subject areas and study skills. ID cards provide controlled access to the secure campus and building. Next month, Weber will launch a fully-interactive website that includes a media center component.
Art Institute of Atlanta
“The Art Institute of Atlanta provides students with the kind of technology they are likely to find in the workplace,” said President Janet Day. “Over 20 Mac and PC computer labs, as well as labs specific to particular programs such as audio, video, animation, visual effects, motion graphics and food and beverage management. The curriculum of both principles and practice of the applied arts is reviewed on a regular basis by advisory committees of professionals and graduates specific to each program.
“Faculty use eCollege, a course management tool that facilitates student communication such as class information, readings, and a secure area for students’ grades.
“Rapid technology changes make it hard to predict the future, but The Art Institute of Atlanta will continue to respond quickly and appropriately to new opportunities for integration.”