Today’s kids are growing up with a vast array of technologies at their fingertips – particularly those at schools with forward-thinking, tech-savvy philosophies. Parenting Times made a recent visit to St. Andrew Catholic School in Ottawa to chat with educators about a few of the ways technology is impacting student education.
1. Saying goodbye to the traditional computer lab
The days when students had to line up and traipse through the halls for their designated hour in the computer lab are dwindling. Last year, St. Andrew ditched its traditional lab (the space has been converted into an additional classroom). Now, the school is maximizing computer accessibility for students by bringing laptops right into the classroom.
“We currently have Tech Tubs in every one of our classrooms,” says Principal Mary-Ellen MacPhee, referring to the innovative storage “tubs” that house and charge laptops when they’re not in use.
There are five computers – iPads or Chromebooks – in each classroom, plus each teacher has an iPad of their own. “We have to shift our mindset – it’s no longer an event to go to the computer lab anymore.”
Similarly, the school’s library has been undergoing a facelift, and has been renamed The Learning Commons. In addition to good old-fashioned books, the space has embraced a technology-friendly approach – offering laptops for student use, an Apple TV system and podcasts linked to Grade 4, 5 and 6 curriculum.
The Learning Commons is now an ideal space for larger groups of students to collaborate. For example, teacher Chris Buccini says the Grade 5 classes were thrilled to gather to participate in a webcast promoting student reading, featuring music celebrity Usher.
“Technology provides the ability to connect beyond the classroom,” says Buccini.
2. Growing the technology toolbox
For the creative educator, there’s no shortage of technology tools and apps to enhance a lesson plan.
Michaela Ahearn, a Grade 2 teacher at St. Andrew, says science and reading have been integrated – and brought to life for her students – through technology.
“We’re currently learning about the growth and change in animals and, at the same time, we’re looking at non-fiction in reading and writing,” explains Ahearn.
“The students are doing their research on the net and will be using apps such as Book Creator and Popplet to write a non-fiction book on their animals.”
Ahearn says she sees her students are exponentially more engaged when technology is interwoven into her lesson plans.
“Children gravitate towards the technology,” she says. “There is so much excitement when they see the bin of iPads in the classroom.”
She adds that tech tools can also be invaluable when working with special needs children.
“Coming from a special needs perspective, I witnessed children who had severe language deficits strive through using apps on the iPads that allowed them to express themselves and demonstrate their understanding.
“Normally, they would be unable to do so in a traditional classroom that struggles to evolve with the changing times. Amazing!”
3. Weaving technology into the curriculum
Today’s educators are being challenged to find ways to integrate technology into the curriculum at a fundamental level, as opposed to it being an “add-on” or afterthought to a lesson plan.
MacPhee explains that staff at St. Andrew look to an educational model called Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition to assess how technology might impact learning.
“At the substitution stage, which is the first stage of implementing technology, a teacher might simply substitute a laptop for typing text – instead of writing it on a piece of paper,” says MacPhee.
The SAMR model is seen as a continuum – as educators move along the four stages, technology becomes increasingly important while becoming more invisibly woven into the curriculum and student learning.
4. Giving students the chance to be ‘geniuses’
Another brand-new initiative at St. Andrew is a Genius Lounge on Fridays, where students are given the autonomy to learn about a new technology area and then share it with other students and teachers.
MacPhee says the school’s concept is roughly modelled after the Genius Bar at Apple retailers, where customers can stop by for tech help and conversation. At the school, the events will emphasize promoting technology through student collaboration.
“The kids will be teaching the sessions,” says MacPhee. “Two students will run the Genius Lounge every
She says they might elect to teach others about a new app, coding or another aspect of technology. Those interested in learning and discussing that week’s topic will meet in the Learning Commons.
5. Reaching out with social media
Communication between teachers and parents is not limited to a scrawled note or a photocopied piece of paper in the backpack anymore.
Increasingly, teachers are embracing social media; blogs or websites offer up a high-level look at classroom happenings and curriculum, while Twitter is being embraced as a medium for keeping parents in the loop with daily tweets and photos.
“Being able to sneak a peek into the classroom has changed our dinner and story time conversations,” says Ahearn, who tweets out photos of her students’ artwork and other activities.
“When I used to ask how school was, I would typically get a one-word answer. Now we discuss the learning that we see going on.”
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