Area school leaders meet in Lakeview to discuss technology in the classroom

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 4:11 pm on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LAKEVIEW — Administrators and staff from schools throughout the area met Monday evening at Lakeview High School to discuss technology and its role in education.

Nine schools were represented, including Montcalm Community College, the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, Carson City-Crystal, Central Montcalm, Greenville, Lakeview, Montabella, Tri County and Vestaburg. Officials from each district were given 10 minutes to talk about their own technology programs.

The focus of the event was intentionally broad, covering topics ranging from new hardware and software to innovative teaching techniques geared toward integrating technology into the classroom.

Jeff Beal, superintendent at Vestaburg Community Schools, highlighted his district’s tablet computing initiative and the role it will play — and is already playing — in education. It is important, Beal said, to incorporate technology into every aspect of learning.

“I believe technology should not be taught in isolation,” Beal said. “We have to rethink the paradigm of how we teach. The teachers need to look at how they will adapt their teaching techniques to the technology.”

Beal pointed out the simplest tablet currently in use in the district is far more advanced than the first five computers he owned and that many students were more adept at operating them than are their instructors.

For that reason, developing learning plans that allow students to learn at their own pace is critical, he added.

Laura Ruggles, an art teacher from Central Montcalm high school and middle school, demonstrated the ways in which the district uses computer image manipulation to create art projects. Sharing that work online via social media was also discussed.

According to Ruggles, the students’ work online has actually generated job offers from area businesses interested in having students produce advertising materials.

“We’re seeing this blossom into something beyond even what we envisioned,” Ruggles said.

Nursing lab instructor Doug Reinsmith of Montcalm Community College gave a demonstration of “Sonny,” a medical simulator dummy, also known as the “Sim Man.” The computer controlled dummy is able to replicate many actual human bodily functions, including pulse, heartbeat and even bowel sounds.

“We can just push a button and the students can see what they did right and what they did wrong without any human patient being harmed,” Reinsmith said. “He is all wires and tubes. I can program death and dying and he goes through all the stages of death.”

Carson City-Crystal Middle School teacher Shawn Bollinger talked about teaching without textbooks. Bollinger spent the summer finding “open source” digital textbooks, which are available free and are easily updated and edited.

“With budgets getting tighter all the time, why not?” Bollinger said. “They come as PDFs and the kids can access them on their PCs or iPads. It’s pretty convenient for them. If you have a computer at home, there’s no reason to print anything out. Everything can be moved back and forth via flash drive.”

Jamie Eldred, a teacher at Montabella Junior High and High School, demonstrated the Criterion Online Writing Evaluation service, a web-based application that reviews and provides advice on a student’s writing.

“The students tend to try to get to the highest score they can get,” Eldred said. “The kids have the option of sharing their scores with others in the class, so some of them compete. This gives them a chance to see what good writing looks like.”

Criterion checks several different aspects of a student’s writing and evaluates the ways in which each aspect was used and how effective it was to the overall essay. Style, spelling, run-on sentences and even capitalization are checked automatically by the program.

“It gives them instant feedback and allows them to revise their essays,” Eldred explained.

Tri County High School teacher James Cain reviewed the school’s drafting and architectural design curriculum. Cain demonstrated the ways in which the school’s drafting program allows students to design projects as complicated as an entire home, complete with 3-D “walk-through.”

“Kids can zoom in and put in all the elements like furniture and things,” Cain said. “The kids design everything from car parts to gun smithing parts. When they walk away from this particular program, most of the kids can use pretty much any of the standard programs out there.”

Additionally, students with computers at home can download the program and use the school’s access key to use it, thereby getting a $3,000 program for only $50.

Greenville Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Diane Brissette discussed the school system’s 1:1 Pilot Program, now in its second year. The students receive a smart phone with calls and texting disabled and use the phones, essentially, as an Internet connectivity device.

The school implements the devices for research, “game-based” and “project based” learning, and peer collaboration and communication.

According to Brissette, the phones become and extension of the classroom learning experience. Even fourth grade students are now doing most of their writing in Google Docs, rather than in traditional notebooks or journals.

Greenville teachers Matt Hoenshell and Amanda Platte and library media specialist Laura Pleune also spoke about ways in which the smart phones are being used in and out of the classroom.

Lakeview High School Principal Gary Jensen wrapped up the event by discussing Lakeview’s Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Academy.

“We have 35 kids enrolled in our program right now in Lakeview,” Jensen said. “There’s huge room for expansion. This is another way of learning. The kids in the program are treated just like every other kid here. They are out of the traditional system, but they’re in our school checking in three times a week.

“We graduated three kids from the program last year, who would not have been traditional LHS graduates,” he said. “This is what we’re all about. Some of the kids aren’t the most motivated, but once they get in the program they get involved in things they’re interested in and just go from there.”

The program focuses on personalized learning and allows instructors to work with students both in person and online. It is geared toward “at risk” students and gives the district additional options for students who might “fall through the cracks” of the traditional classroom environment.

The program serves about 1,300 students statewide.

“We’re having some great success with our kids,” Jensen said. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters. I look at it as just another way to get things done.”

The school districts have scheduled another technology workshop for April.

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