More than $9 million of Hall County school system funds were allocated for classroom technology in the past three years, and school board members visited four schools Monday to see how those funds were implemented.
Aaron Turpin, executive director of technology for Hall County schools, led two school board members and a gaggle of teachers, principals and system administrators on a technology tour Monday to ignite conversation about how educators might better serve the generation of "digital natives." Turpin wove educators through the classrooms of Chestatee Middle, East Hall High and Johnson High schools as well as the World Language Academy.
The tour revealed Chestatee Middle School sixth-graders using iPods to augment a lesson on decimals. Seventh-graders were diligently writing interactive blogs on the similarities and differences of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
And down the hall, seventh grade Chestatee Middle School science teacher Laurie Brown taught students about the construction of cells using a white board — an interactive chalkboard much like a computer. Brown quizzed students on everything from DNA to cell anatomy and students responded with hand-held activotes, which serve as game show-type buzzers. Once students send in their answers, Brown is immediately able to determine what percentage of the class, and which individual students, answered the question correctly.
Suzanne Jarrard, principal of Chestatee Middle School, said the sixth-graders in math teacher Gary Martin’s class wanted a class set of iPods so badly they held a fundraiser at school that generated $1,200 to purchase the extra iPods. The school system already had five iPods available for the students to use at the beginning of this school year.
At East Hall High School, language arts students used technology to help them learn about the elements of literature. Next door, eleventh-grade language arts students integrated literary techniques into their own stories. Some students chose to record a rap song about literary terms for extra credit. They pulled beats from the internet and laced them with lyrics they recorded right there in the school computer lab’s recording booth.
Mark Anthony, a language arts teacher at East Hall High School, said using technology in his lessons allows students to be much more creative than in a traditional classroom setting.
"I think this is the future of education, or it should be," Anthony said. "This is more fun for them than just sitting there and being lectured to."
And at Johnson High School, engineering technology students use computer software programs to map bridges and construction projects. Students are also invited to participate in a daily news program, recorded each morning at the school and aired promptly at 10 a.m.
Not to be outdone, World Language Academy elementary school students, including kindergartners, used interactive white boards to learn Spanish and how to measure objects.
Turpin said all this technology allows teachers to engage every student and evaluate their performance in subjects immediately. With Podcasts and saved white board notes, students can review material if they did not comprehend the subject matter the first time or were absent from school.
Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, said the technology visible in Hall County schools is a good start. He said educators need to do even more to help students keep pace with the rapidly evolving world of technology if students are to be successful in the 21st century workplace.
"Mark Twain said when your horse dies, dismount. This is what we struggle with," Schofield said. "We don’t need to just tweak this system, we need to blow it up."
Schofield told the group of educators the school system needs to do more. He said educators need to radically change the way in which they teach and seize students’ interest in technology to develop more engaging instruction in the classroom.
Schofield said the purpose of the technology tour was to build a sense of urgency in the educational community that will foster a "healthy dissatisfaction with what we’re doing." He said the Hall County school system must do more in the fields of technology and language to make students competitive with the high school students of other nations.
"We’ve somehow got to blast ourselves out of this malaise," he said. "(This country) has lost our edge, and education is going to be where we find it again."