Everybody can use technology.
That’s the idea at Hall County’s Educational Technology Conference this week. Under new guidelines passed by the school board this summer, teachers must evaluate how they use technology in the classroom this fall and kick it up a notch.
With the goal to engage students more in the classroom, teachers are attending the three-day conference at Flowery Branch High School to learn more about using Google documents, creating better teacher websites and incorporating popular gadgets — such as smartphones, laptops and MP3 players — in the classroom.
“I came to learn about the technology we’re all trying to integrate,” said Paige Odell, a second grade teacher at Chicopee Woods Elementary. She attended sessions about using blogs and audio for lessons. “I’m excited to allow my students to write stories and put audio with them and then post them to my teacher Web page. I’ve tried using my page before, but I want to do more, so that’s why I’m here.”
Teachers chose from seven sessions every hour, giving them more than 80 options during the three days. Teachers must attend 10 classes to get professional learning credit, and the lessons widely range from simple Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007 demonstrations to more complex Google Earth and Movie Maker software.
Terri Lance, a sixth grade language arts teacher at Davis Middle School, showed teachers how to use student response systems, such as clickers that quiz classes instantly.
“It really frees up time because the teacher understands if the class knows the concept or not, even in the middle of class,” she said. “You’re not wasting time when students grasp the lesson quickly or when you’re grading because the program downloads the answers directly to a spreadsheet.”
Lance, who uses the clicker system to test vocabulary words and grammar, said students love anything that increases interaction.
“The kids are enthralled and race to see who can get the fastest time or the highest number of correct vocabulary words,” she said.
“Even though it’s just pushing a button instead of raising a card, they get to use a piece of technology.”
Geoff Chaffin, a special education teacher at Davis Middle School, talked about using online lectures for the group of students he has deemed the “iGeneration.”
“Today’s students are almost completely digitalized, but most of the teachers are not,” he said. “Instead of banning phones and technology from school, we need to incorporate it. Why do students need to memorize facts when they can look them up? As adults they will use technology for facts but need to learn in school how to access, process and apply the information.”
In one of Chaffin’s classes, a student wouldn’t turn in homework because she always forgot what assignments to take home.
Chaffin built an alarm and note into her phone to remind her at the end of each day.
“Then she began turning in 85 percent of her work, her grades came up and she took notes on her phone for class,” he said. “The phone will keep reminding them, so the key is teaching them and helping them to put the information in.”
In another session, teachers learned the basics of Safari Montage, which Hall County Schools invested in this year to give teachers, parents and students online access to more than 60,000 searchable videos. The program — found at safari.hallco.org — was piloted at 10 schools in the spring and rolled out to all Hall County schools at the beginning of July.
By typing in keywords, teachers can find videos for any subject, including A&E Biography specials on George Washington and Cleopatra, full versions of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, and tons of short videos on volcanoes, earthquakes and the ocean.
Teachers can build personal playlists and will be able to upload their own videos and presentations this fall. Getting energized with ideas, teachers clicked through the thousands of titles and whispered cheers.
“I like to see how we can take everyday gadgets that we all seem to have and incorporate them into learning,” said Jennifer Killingsworth, co-coordinator for the county’s Honors Mentorship Program and the work-based learning program.
“I think if we incorporate familiar tools, such as Facebook, we can communicate with students — even former students,” she said. “If they see information presented in a technological way, we can reach them better.”