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Teachers becoming technologically savy
County schools have monthly meeting
Deborah Copher goes over class information Thursday with her third-graders at Oakwood Eleementary School. - photo by Tom Reed

Students are grasping how technology works in today’s world at an earlier age than ever, leaving some educators, many of whom have been in the class for decades, wondering how to keep up.

Local school systems, however, have made it a priority to help those who may feel a bit uneasy about bringing the 21st century into the classroom.

“One of the things that builds anxiety in teachers is that kids may know more than you do about some of this stuff,” said Keith Palmer, director of technology for Gainesville City Schools.

Systems are trying to change that.

Gainesville City, along with Hall County Schools, provides each of its teachers with laptops and has done so for years.

Issuing personal technology allows teachers to create a greater comfort level with the devices, which ideally will boil over into instruction.

“Every teacher has a laptop, which is a huge tool, but they have access to a lot more (in the schools),” said Aaron Turpin, executive director of technology for Hall County Schools.

But the systems, and individual schools, don’t stop at simply issuing a computer.

Each school sets priorities on how it wants to spend its technology funds depending on its instructional goals.

Oakwood Elementary School, for example, focuses on student creation, so almost every classroom has a “hovercam” — an upright camera that projects a recorded image onto a television or screen — to help bring the in-school instruction into the digital age.

Deborah Copher, a third-grade teacher at Oakwood Elementary, uses the camera and her website to provide an online database that students, and their parents, can access anytime, anywhere.

In fact, she said, she currently has a student who will miss a month, but won’t miss much in the way of instruction because each lesson is posted online.

“What’s really incredible about the technology we have now is that we can actually record a lesson underneath the hovercams and post it online where the kids can view it,” said Copher. “This has also been wonderful for parents because they can hear me teach the lesson. ... That’s been a huge component of getting them more involved at home.”

However, Copher, who has been in education for two decades, didn’t learn the equipment overnight.

In fact, her neighboring teacher, Ashley Friend, has helped her more effectively use the technology in the classroom.

“You have to be willing to take it in little pieces,” said Copher. “I think if you don’t learn to use it a piece at a time and be able to make it purposeful, it’s a distraction or it’s something that doesn’t get used.”

Friend, on the other hand, received her master’s degree in instructional technology and presents during “Tech Tuesdays” — a monthly meeting of Oakwood Elementary teachers to review and discuss technology in the classroom.

“Once a month, teachers like me, who do a little more with technology, share with some of the teachers that don’t know exactly what to do or what they have,” Friend said. “In our school, we try to share that way and I think other schools are starting to as well.”

Turpin said all of the county schools have some monthly meeting equal to Oakwood’s “Tech Tuesday.” Each school also has a media specialist on hand to help integrate technology into the curriculum on a daily basis.

Gainesville City has “instructional technology specialists,” or teachers who have been trained in incorporating technology into classes.

“We found teachers want to hear from other teachers,” said Palmer. “They don’t want to hear from somebody that doesn’t have a teaching certificate: ‘Here’s how you should teach.’”

And the push for a greater understanding of technology and how to use it in today’s classroom is starting to pay off for teachers.

“As we go, I think more people are getting more comfortable,” said Friend. “When we first started out, everybody was a little unsure from a lot of perspectives, like, is it OK if my principal walks in and there’s the classroom management (program) on the big screen? And over the past couple years, it’s been more comfortable and more exciting for teachers.”

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