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Tue, 09/10/2019 – 12:44
As schools across the country reopen for the new academic year, students will be greeted by more than teachers, administrators and their peers.
Many will also have new laptops or tablets through one-to-one computing programs, upgraded classroom technology for blended learning, and teachers trained to more effectively use technology to personalize instruction.
For many IT leaders, administrators and teachers, the technology also fuels their excitement and inspiration for the new school year.
Students at the Center of Applied Sciences and Technology (COAST) in Brunswick County, N.C., are starting the year with new options for learning about STEM subjects tied to in-demand, high-paying careers — such as cybersecurity, game art and design, digital design and animation.
What started as an alternative school is now more akin to a magnet school.
COAST students will also have access to tools such as 3D printers and a 5-kilowatt solar panel, as well as professional software such as AutoCAD.
Daniel Richardson, who teaches clean energy technology at the school, and Susan Tietje, who teaches technology and design, are working to secure grant funding to expand the program with Mavic drones, which can be used for jobs such as search-and-rescue efforts or real estate advertising.
Options for those types of careers are multiplying, Tietje says. The instruction is “giving our students an edge with what they can put on their resume. They can do side hustles now with what we’re teaching them,” she says.
Historically, the nation’s public schools have struggled to prepare students heading toward careers instead of college after high school, says COAST Principal Randolph Horne.
COAST’s mission is to use technology to prepare students to “contribute back to our community in all kinds of ways,” Horne says, such as improving quality of life, contributing to the tax base and being self-sufficient.
“This could be the type of thing that changes their life’s trajectory,” Richardson says, noting that in-demand, high-paying careers would help students provide for their families and future children. “It’s the type of thing that could impact families generationally.”
Gamifying Teacher Training on Blended Learning
At the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, Educational Technology Director James Nevarez is emphasizing training for teachers — and finding ways to make the lessons fun.
This year, the district expanded its one-to-one computing program to its middle schools.
The district also practices blended learning, using Instructure’s Canvas as its learning management system.
With the tech deployment comes a focus on helping teachers feel confident blending online instruction with traditional practices.
That effort began last year, Nevarez says, with tapping some “trailblazer” teachers at the middle school campuses to start a technology committee at their respective schools, he says.
They receive support for gaining Google certification as well as training on Canvas to help them understand the basics for setting up their online presence.
The approach, Nevarez says, is to help teachers get comfortable with being uncomfortable, for “being willing to take a leap of faith and be brave rather than perfect.” So far, teachers have earned roughly 1,300 badges as they master related skills.
This school year, Nevarez plans to build on that success, adding a higher skill level for teachers to strive for.
To reach the top, teachers have to be technology mentors, helping at least one person from each grade level on their campus to integrate technology into instruction in a meaningful way.
“I’m excited that we have a superintendent that’s invested in allowing me to take this approach,” he says.
Classroom Technology Prepares Students for the Future
With the support of her principal at Dr. C. Owen Roundy Elementary in Las Vegas, Christia Osborn-Preston will teach a new class this year on technology, covering topics such as robotics and coding.
Osborn-Preston, who has 22 years of teaching experience, also plans to expose students to Google Classroom to help prepare them for using G Suite tools when they advance to middle school.
Those lessons will take place in a space Osborn-Preston calls The Innovation Lab. It doesn’t look like a traditional classroom; rather, it’s furnished with standing tables, bar stools and bean bags.
A SMART interactive whiteboard hangs against one wall, near plush armchairs. Students will work with a classroom set of Chromebooks, tablets and other tools, including Coding Express from LEGO Education.