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Schools’ tools teaching tech-savvy generation

POSTED: May 3, 2009 12:07 a.m.

HOSCHTON — Students in Lacey Jakes’ first-period math class at Osborne Middle School went over their homework and walked through some practice problems as a review before their quiz on Monday.

But the students didn’t have to leave their seats to work through problems on the board, thanks to some new instructional technologies that are leaving the chalkboard in the dust.

A study released by Education Week at the end of March named Georgia the top state in the country when it comes to using instructional technologies in the classroom.

Schools in Barrow, Gwinnett, Hall and Jackson counties have incorporated several technology initiatives into the learning process, from offering credit recovery programs online to using digital resources from the state to accompany the source material.

Jakes’ classroom, like those in all schools in Gwinnett County, has a projector that connects to her computer so she can bring up images, presentations, videos and programs as she teaches.

She also has a small, white tablet and stylus she can use to write on the screen images and have students solve problems from their seats.

During Monday’s review, Jakes brought up some sample problems on the projector and asked different students to work through them using the tablet to write out each step, rather than asking them to walk up to the board to solve the problems.

"I think it keeps the kids motivated and interested. They can do it from their desks," Jakes said. "It’s not like all eyes are on them at the front of the classroom — they’re very conscious of that at this age."

The tablet she uses is wireless, allowing her to walk around the classroom and make sure students remain on task, she added.

Similarly, schools like Flowery Branch High School use the tablets in everyday lessons. Hall County also installed 300 interactive whiteboards in schools. Barrow County is in the process of installing 60 whiteboards in math and science classrooms across the county.

Six of Jackson County’s 13 schools are outfitted with the interactive whiteboards. The district hopes to have board installed in the remaining seven schools by 2011, according to David Peek, director of instructional technology.

"We’re going to get Benton (Elementary School) done next month, and the other six elementary schools will be done as SPLOST money becomes available over the next year, year and a half," he said.

Digital natives and
immigrants

Resources like the whiteboards and tablets that have started making their way into classrooms are part of school districts’ attempts to educate students who grew up with computers, video games and other interactive technologies.

Aaron Turpin, executive director for technology in Hall County Schools, said that schools are having to reevaluate the way they’ve been teaching for decades to adjust to the digital revolution.

He explained that people who were born before 1985 are known as "digital immigrants" and those born after that year are considered "digital natives."

"‘Digital natives’ have grown up with technology," Turpin said. Digital "immigrants" have had to adjust to the influx of new technologies.

"Research shows that the brain actually fires differently for digital natives because they grow up multitasking. We have to teach kids in a way that they think outside the schoolhouse," he said. "Web tools, blogs, wikis, podcasts and smart phones — that’s all part of the equation."

Peek agreed, adding that students need to be prepared for using these technologies in the workplace, and schools would be "shortchanging them" if they didn’t include technology instruction in their curriculum.

"If they’re going to be exposed to that in the real world, it’s our job as public schools to get them ready for that," he said.

Online classes and credit recovery

One of the Web tools local school districts use is the Georgia Virtual School, an online course program run by the Georgia Department of Education.

Take away the desks, walls and hallways of traditional schooling and all you’re left with is the academics, which is part of Georgia Virtual School’s appeal, Turpin said.

"The Georgia Virtual School is an option primarily to take coursework and earn credits online," he said. "What’s great about the virtual option is we don’t have the boundaries of traditional schools, like school bells and school walls."

Turpin said Hall County has a few students currently taking advantage of the virtual school.

But for the most part the district uses a similar program called Education 2020 because it "gives our students a bit more flexibility than the virtual school."

Students in Hall County schools who have to go to summer school, need to retake a class or just want to get ahead can take courses through the program, but must take the online assessments on site to make sure no one cheats.

Jackson County schools also use the Georgia Virtual Schools program, with 109 students taking courses in 28 subjects this school year alone, Peek said.

He said most of the students took courses not offered in their schools, but some used the virtual course option when they transferred from a district using block scheduling to schools in Jackson County using the traditional format.

"When you move from one (school district) to another, it wreaks havoc with your credits," Peek said.



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