It’s hard to ignore the multitude of electronic communication devices that are part of our society every day. With newer, faster, less expensive versions of the best-selling electronic devices becoming more easily attainable, the way we communicate is changing right along with it. Electronic devices, such as e-readers, iPads, and smart boards are becoming more common in the workplace, and also more common in our local schools. The Tribune interviewed the schools in our coverage area to find out what new technologies have been implemented and how they are affecting the modern classroom. This is part three of three of our look at “Technology in Schools.”
By Crystal McGough
This year, Pinson Valley High School has implemented several new technologies in its classrooms to help students engage in their education.
These new technologies range from eReaders to wireless notebook computers and handheld classroom response systems.
The school purchased 30 Nook Color eReader devices this summer. The devices, which download electronic books, came in just before the school year began. “They are brand new,” PVHS Instructional Assistant Principal Karen Mardis said. “In fact, we don’t have the books installed on them yet, they’re so brand new.”
The installation of books on the eReaders is pending the release of a system called OverDrive to Jefferson County Schools.
“(OverDrive) is the system in which the district purchases books and each school can check out those editions of the books on their eReaders electronically,” Mardis said.
It has been estimated that Overdrive will go into effect in October. Once that happens, students will be able to check out the Nooks for their school reading.
“The Nooks are in the library and ready for use, pending the release of OverDrive…this fall,” said Erin DeArman, a Commerce and Technology teacher at PVHS.
At this time, textbooks are not available on eReaders. Student’s will, however, be able to read Classics and other school reading assignments on the devices.
“Textbooks are adopted by the Board Of Education for a specific number of years,” DeArman said. “Maybe when that agreement is completed, they may look in to adding the digital textbooks…but I’m not sure.”
Mardis said that some teachers keep sets of textbooks for use in the classroom, while others still issue textbooks to students. Many new textbooks, however, are available to students online.
“There’s a student access code that they punch in, and there’s no need for the student to carry a book around if they can go home and see it online,” Mardis said. “We have a mix and we allow the teachers to determine what works best for their content area on that.”
Also new to PVHS this year is an upgraded Classroom Response System, consisting of 28 handheld devices that allow students to respond to teachers’ questions.
“The handheld mini-computers are similar in size to an iPhone, or other smart phone,” DeArman said. “They give the teacher the ability to quickly assess student learning by asking the students questions. Each mini-computer is assigned to a student, so that it is linked with all responses from that particular student.”
The students are able to respond by selecting yes or no, multiple choice options, or submitting written responses through the QWERTY keyboard.
“As soon as the response is entered, the teacher receives the itemized results on his or her computer,” DeArman said. “The results detail which students understand the material. In this, teachers are able to gauge how well the class gets the material, and are then able to proceed based off of true, documented understanding of topics covered.”
This new Classroom Response System is the third generation of response systems at the high school. One involving a handheld “clicking” device was brought into the school five years ago, and a second-generation response system was introduced two years ago, Mardis said. The two previous systems did not have QWERTY keyboards and only allowed students to respond to multiple choice through numbers and letters.
In addition to these brand new technologies, the school purchased a 28-unit Mobile Lab last year. The unit includes 28 wireless notebook computers, which the students can use to perform classroom assignments.
“It’s not quite as new,” Mardis said. “We actually began getting the pieces in March. In late April and early May, the classrooms were able to use them.”
DeArman said that teachers are able to check out the lab and take it directly into their classrooms.
“Students have the ability to use their own personal notebook computer to compose assignments in class, perform online research, or any other task a teacher may choose to explore,” she said.
Since wireless Internet has not yet been installed throughout the entire school, teachers who do not have access to Internet in their classrooms can use the lab in a large Teacher Professional Development room, Mardis said.
“If the teacher’s classroom is Wi-Fi enabled, they take the lab there,” Mardis said. “If not, the teacher brings their class to the teacher’s training room to do the activities.”
DeArman said that Wi-Fi is expected to be installed throughout the campus sometime this year.
Another option for teachers and students is a Bring Your Own Device session, in which the teacher can request permission from the administration to allow students to bring their own devices, such as cellphones and iPods, into the classroom for exercises.
“Some teachers have gotten permission in their lesson plans to have students use their own portable devices…that are web-enabled to participate in some technology activities in the class,” Mardis said
. “For example, the teacher can poll the kids by having them text a response to a number and have those results tabulated through the website, (or) frequently allow kids to Google things in class while they’re investigating that new idea.”
In special circumstances, some students are allowed to bring their own laptops, as well.
“Especially for the situations where the students have an impairment with their writing, we do allow them to bring devices from home, as far as a laptop or maybe an iPad,” Mardis said. “But we do have to check them for viruses and stuff before we allow them to operate on our network.”
When not having an authorized BYOD session, students are required to leave their personal devices in their lockers.
Mardis said that she has noticed two results from the schools’ new technologies. First, she said that the students are able to use these technologies to learn in new ways.
“They’re investigating,” she said. “They’re using real-world texts. They’re not using something out of a book that was published 20 years ago. They’re using current event articles, research in science, math software for practice that gives them real-life scenarios for using math. I would say that student learning is a lot more relevant as a result of those labs in the classrooms that have used them.”
The second result she mentioned was how the teachers could use the technology to “plan differently for instruction.”
“Where you used to be textbook based, they’re finding new ways to use that technology to get students engaged in what they’re learning,” she said. “It’s very exciting to see new ways of teaching and learning. It takes traditional education and ups the ante by giving students real-time information.”
To see “Technology in Schools: Hewitt-Trussville, click here
To see “Technology in Schools: Clay-Chalkville, click here