The question of whether to purchase a significant amount of new laptops, iPads and SMART Boards turned contentious for the Haines School Board last year. There were concerns about young kids being overexposed to technology, but teachers testified the tools would help individualize learning. The “Engaging the Future” technology push ended with the board approving one-to-one devices in grades five and up, which means each student gets their own computer, along with more iPads and SMART Boards for elementary grades.
“You’re trying to make it go to the radio controller. You program it right and then you redo it,” second grader Nolan Wald explained what he was doing on a laptop one recent morning.
He’s learning something not every 7-year old-knows about – coding. He types in angles and directions to make an animated character follow a certain path on a website called Code.org.
Sara Hadad is the school’s technology and innovation coordinator. She meets with a group of 10 second graders twice a week to learn coding. They call themselves the Number Ninjas.
“You know, it’s a game format where it looks like something they’re familiar with, a video game format, but it doesn’t do anything unless you give it the directions,” Hadad said.
This is one example of how technology is becoming more integrated into teaching at the Haines School. Hadad has been a big part of that. Her position is new this year — it was part of the package when the school board approved $96,000 worth of new technology. Former superintendent Ginger Jewell pitched the grant-fund position as someone who would work with teachers to utilize the technology.
“I talk with them, you know what do you have coming up? And what can I do for you? And that’s the thing that they don’t have time to do, is look for those sorts of things,” Hadad said. “But I spend my time finding stuff and then they have time to concentrate on their classes.”
“New things this year would really be the Mystery Skype,” said third grade teacher Kristin White. “That’s been a fantastic way to study geography. It really doesn’t get any better than that.”
Her students use the classroom SMART Board, which is like a digital white board, to Skype with schools in different states. They have to guess which state the kids live in by asking questions about geography and other distinguishing features.
“Does the name of your state have an O in it?” Third graders asked another class in a Skype call in late November. “Are you Oklahoma?” “No,” the other class responded. Then they guessed Alaska. “Yes!” the Haines students responded.
White says Mystery Skype has made teaching more engaging for students. She wagers that her third graders know more about geography than many of the adults walking around Haines.
“Studying a map can be something that’s not really exciting for students, but when you bring it to life with actual people and make it into a mystery, they feel like detectives,” White said. “So that’s been a wonderful way to bring it to life.”
Technology coordinator Hadad has helped teachers find new tools to enhance instruction. But just having the new technology has increased access. And teachers say that makes a big difference.
“So [last year] we shared one cart of 25 computers for grades six, seven, eight,” said Lisa Andriesen, who teaches seventh and eighth grade English and Social Studies. “I just think it’s given more of a variety of how I can teach. And more variety for ways for kids to learn.”
Middle school science teacher Patty Brown agrees that students having their own devices has helped her teaching.
“It has been a real boon to have access on-demand to computers. So the one-to-one access for fifth and sixth has been a giant breakthrough.”
But, Brown says integrating the technology hasn’t been without its challenges.
“‘Cause I’m more of a hands-on, live show thing,” she said. “But I see tremendous opportunities. There’s amazing things that are on the web.”
Brown is one of the teachers who attended some of the meetings where parents spoke out against more technology. She says she appreciates their concerns.
“I don’t feel like they were criticizing or being ungrateful in any way. I think they want balance, and hopefully we all do.”
Back with the second grade Number Ninjas, Hadad says she’s aware of the over-screening fears.
“You know, that’s a misconception that I don’t want parents to think, that they’re just playing games. ‘Cause they’re not. It takes some higher level thinking that normally they don’t do so much at this age.”
She says, it’s not computer screens all day, every day. It’s little bits of technology to enhance the learning that’s already happening.