Teachers use the latest technology

August 18, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Fourth-grade students at Sunset Elementary School listen as the Brazilian students at The Quero Ser (I Want to Be…) School describe their day. Student teacher Annie Cowgill (right) holds the microphone. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Fourth-grade students at Sunset Elementary School listen as the Brazilian students at The Quero Ser (I Want to Be…) School describe their day. Student teacher Annie Cowgill (right) holds the microphone. By Chantelle Lusebrink

Today’s classrooms are brimming with high-tech gadgets for teachers to make academic lessons come alive and for students to explore the world around them without leaving their seats.

Building to harness technology

Issaquah, thanks to its “tech-savvy” residents, has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in new technological equipment and ideas that help students achieve more, said Colleen Dixon, executive director of technology for the Issaquah School District.In fact, Issaquah residents were among the first to fund a technology levy in 1988.

“The only reason we can do what we do is because of this community,” Dixon said.

From the ground up, new Issaquah schools are built with the latest technology. Wireless and regular Internet connections fill spaces between walls, along with other essentials, like plumbing, heating and electrical wiring.

“So many folks just thought it would be a passing fad, but technology is here to stay,” Dixon said. “It is the world our students live in, so we need to make sure there are tools to support their education in all the ways they will need it.”

Digital revolution in the classroom

Nearly every classroom in the district is outfitted with a document camera, teaching laptop station, ceiling-mounted projector, sound system and an active board, with funding from recent levies, the schools’ Parents and Teachers Associations and the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

“I am really quite blessed to be teaching in Issaquah,” said Joshua Moore, an Issaquah High School teacher. “I love computers and I love teaching, and feel blessed that I have a place where those two things interface. That is because of this community.”

At all levels, the materials enable students to work in class and share their answers with their peers.

“When I was in science, in junior high, we read books about science,” Dixon said. “I went into a middle school science class and one teacher was using the document camera to dissect a frog. It was so cool that she was doing it right then and there for all the kids to see.”

It isn’t just hardware that gets students where they need to go, academically. Today’s plethora of online resources, including social networking sites, online research databases and access to global peers provide another layer of learning.

At Sunset Elementary School, students participated in a Web camera conference with students in Brazil.

Pine Lake Middle School teacher Eric Ensey said he used an invitation-only social network, called Ming, to get students talking about the presidential races and debates last year.

In class, students were researching claims made by candidates and discussing ideas, he said. Though their homework assignment was to watch the debates, several students started posting fact-checking research and blogging about the content of them on the class site.

“It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my teaching career,” Ensey said. “To see kids communicating about real-world issues, after school for homework, and doing it because they want to, and not because they have to, was just so cool.”

Ensey said he could have tried to re-create that atmosphere in class, “but it would be nothing like listening to the candidates in real time and chatting about it instantaneously.”

Moore said he uses sites like Facebook and Twitter to create pages students can follow, because it is a manageable way to keep in touch when students aren’t in class.

He also applied for grants from the high school’s PTSA, which gave him high-tech video equipment and editing software, so students could create research documentaries for his classes.

“When something new comes up I ask, ‘How can this help my students or how can this further my educational goals for them?’” he said.

While preparing their documentaries, students learned how to conduct in-depth research on a subject, find multiple sources, document and interview, narrate a script, and revise and edit their own work, he said.

However, technology does have its down side, teachers said. Classroom disruptions from a plethora of phones, iPods and personal gaming devices can be invasive.

There are ways to teach children when it is appropriate to use these devices, teachers said.

“When someone pulls out their smart phone when I say a name in class, I don’t know if they are looking it up or they’re checking out their friend’s Facebook page,” Moore said. “You have to balance and control the use of technology in class.”

The Internet has also created a hotspot for plagiarism, teachers said. However, there are programs teachers use to detect the originality of an essay that have helped them combat that problem, Moore said.

“Our goal is to take technology and make student learning richer, deeper and more rigorous,” Dixon said. “With technology, we meet them with things they are interested in and they meet our goals for them.”

Training

It takes more than just machines and hyperlinks to drive today’s students to show how technology can enhance education. It takes a teacher to give technology a purpose.

Moore said he is young enough to have sat on the cusp of the digital revolution and was fortunate to have it as part of his education.

Many others were past their formative years when words like personalized computer, floppy disks and Internet began circulating.

“Many saw computer technology as another thing that would sit in classrooms, rather than a tool,” Dixon said. “They didn’t want it to be one more thing. It is a tool, not a toy.”

While district teachers aren’t forced to use technology, they are paid or get free software and materials for their classroom with funding from the community.

To date, thousands of employees have participated in training sessions that teach them how to use an interactive white board or how to use the Internet effectively in class, Dixon said.

“We focus on how to use technology as part of teaching their subject,” she said. “We provide them with instructions on how technology works and scaffolding to support them as they’re teaching their students.”

“When integrated well, technology is not the focus in the classroom. It is a tool,” Ensey said. “Our academic goals don’t change because of technology. How you help kids meet those goals might differ, however. We might use Microsoft Word to type an essay or a poem, but the teacher is teaching the skills, not the computer.”

A shifting future

As district officials look into the ever-changing technological future, it is hard to prepare for what may come just five years down the road, Dixon said.

When preparing for this year’s technology levy, which voters will approve or reject in February, she said they did their best to gauge what students and employees will need.

“It changes from day to day, year to year,” she said. “We can only imagine what may become possible in the future. It is very exciting.”

Technology polices
Phones and cell phones
4When to use it: In emergencies only
4What happens if you’re caught: If you use it inappropriately or it disrupts class, it can be taken away for the class period, school day or until your parent/guardian picks it up. You may also get detention.
4If you lose it: It’s your fault.
iPods or MP3 players
4When to use it: When it’s appropriate or with a teacher’s consent.
4What happens if you’re caught: If you use it inappropriately or it disrupts class, it can be taken away for the class period, school day or until your parent/guardian picks it up. You may also get detention.
4If you lose it: It’s your fault.
Computer use and technology
4When to use it: Once you’ve signed the network access agreement and release form, you have access to the district’s network and resources.
4What is permitted: Appropriate computer and network use includes obtaining information for school-related projects, collaboration and experimentation through technology, like creating videos, Web pages and podcasts.
4Inappropriate uses: Plagiarism, piracy, disabling firewalls to access inappropriate materials, soliciting for commercial or personal gain, campaigning for or against candidates or ballot measures, downloading or installing games, audio or video files without permission or cyber-bullying.
4What happens if you’re caught: There are varying degrees of punishment for infractions, including warnings and revocation of usage rights.
Laser pens/pointers
Not permitted: Lasers can cause serious injury to other students if not used properly.
What happens if you’re caught: It is confiscated and disciplinary action may follow.

Technology polices

Phones and cell phones

  • When to use it: In emergencies only
  • What happens if you’re caught: If you use it inappropriately or it disrupts class, it can be taken away for the class period, school day or until your parent/guardian picks it up. You may also get detention.
  • If you lose it: It’s your fault.

iPods or MP3 players

  • When to use it: When it’s appropriate or with a teacher’s consent.
  • What happens if you’re caught: If you use it inappropriately or it disrupts class, it can be taken away for the class period, school day or until your parent/guardian picks it up. You may also get detention.
  • If you lose it: It’s your fault.

Computer use and technology

  • When to use it: Once you’ve signed the network access agreement and release form, you have access to the district’s network and resources.
  • What is permitted: Appropriate computer and network use includes obtaining information for school-related projects, collaboration and experimentation through technology, like creating videos, Web pages and podcasts.
  • Inappropriate uses: Plagiarism, piracy, disabling firewalls to access inappropriate materials, soliciting for commercial or personal gain, campaigning for or against candidates or ballot measures, downloading or installing games, audio or video files without permission or cyber-bullying.
  • What happens if you’re caught: There are varying degrees of punishment for infractions, including warnings and revocation of usage rights.

Laser pens/pointers

  • Not permitted: Lasers can cause serious injury to other students if not used properly.
  • What happens if you’re caught: It is confiscated and disciplinary action may follow.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at clusebrink@isspress.com or 392-6434, ext. 241. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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