New technology in the classroom sparks powerful learners

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PROVIDENCE — With thousands of educational apps covering a variety of topics, and available for download on tablets and other electronics, there are countless new opportunities for learning in the classroom. But perhaps for some teachers and parents the multitude of applications coupled with curriculum can seem intimidating.

Catherine Gurspan, technology director at St. Philomena School in Portsmouth, shared that there are many ways for teachers and faculty to learn and remain current in terms of apps, both android as well as iOS and extensions. As technology director, her responsibility includes providing up-to-date information in terms of all apps that would be useful to educators as well as their students.

“A large part of my position has led to increasing the frequency of my own professional development both off campus as well as via webinars and professional group affiliations and printed material,” she explained. “Many of our teachers share best practices in terms of their professional digital portfolios. I also encourage team leaders to partner me in aiding them to source out any technology which they may find beneficial, whether it be subject specific or project-based learning.”

Gurspan also runs an Internet-based technology website which she keeps current for faculty, staff and students. She added that effectively using any technology within a school’s campus relies on first having a solid foundation which includes effective technology infrastructure, budget, age-appropriate devices, inventory maintenance, physical space, professional development and on-going hands-on training.

“These are the cornerstones which set the stage for a successful experience,” said Gurspan. “As with all technology, the master plan needs to be both dynamic as well as flexible.”

At Saint Mary Academy – Bay View in Riverside, technology is a way of life. Students learn with iPads, Apple TVs, desktop computers and the interactive whiteboard from the very beginning. The school also feels it is imperative that parents are also up to speed on how their children are learning in the 21st century.

Kathe Ross, director of technology explained that when the students receive their tablets, the school offers a workshop when they get started with the new devices and students must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We wanted to partner with parents,” she said. “We explain that we want the parents there to help them set up. We want them to be really clear on what we are doing here.”

With ever-changing educational technology, Ross added that her department attends conferences and workshops to stay up to date on current apps and other technology. This past spring they were invited to a special hands on workshop sponsored by Apple in Manhattan.

“They see us as leaders in one-to-one computing,” she said. “It was the best professional development I’ve been to in my life. They were with us solidly for two days in small groups. It was really exciting. The best way that teachers learn about apps and how to use them is also from other teachers, a core group of educators who are excited about new ways of doing things.”

Ross said that the challenges of this kind of new technology is what you would expect: being able to supervise and monitor what they see, as well as making sure the students do not get distracted.

“It’s a different way of teaching so we have to be aware of what they are doing,” she said. “Apple just came out with “Classroom”– which will give us more control.

Apple describes Classroom as a powerful teaching assistant, helping a teacher guide students through a lesson, see their progress, and keep them on track. With Classroom, teachers can easily launch the same app on every student device at the same time or launch a different app for each group of students. It helps teachers focus on teaching so students can focus on learning.

“Teachers will be able to see what is visible on each student’s iPad,” said Ross. “ You are always dealing with possible distraction. Families are paying for their daughters to go to the school and they are here to learn.”

Even with this the easy accessibility of iPads and other technology, the students are not on the screens 24-7, but Ross did explain that this technology opens many doors of learning.

“It brings in so many resources inside the school,” she said. “Before, students only had what you have available in the textbooks and now you have access to so much current information. It’s a whole new world — so much is possible with this technology. Given how technology is used in the classroom and doing it in a way that enhances their learning in a supervised way, they become powerful learners.”