While doing homework on their tablet, today’s typical teenage student might also have an eye on a show streaming on TV with a phone in one hand texting friends.
After that type of technological engagement, a traditional classroom presentation with a student sitting at a desk and staring at a teacher might not maintain the student’s full attention.
“They’re getting input from so many different areas,” said Chris Deily, a seventh grade science and social studies teacher at Strayer Middle School. “As teachers, we need to be cognizant of that. It’s important that we balance reading from a textbook with rich technology experiences.”
In the last five years, the Quakertown Community School District has significantly boosted technology resources for students and teachers to positively impact classroom teaching and learning.
IPads are provided in every kindergarten and first grade classroom. Grades 2-5 have an allocation of roughly 1:1 HP Chromebooks to students housed inside carts. Grades 6-12 are fully 1:1. Sixth Grade Center and Strayer students are provided an HP 11-inch Chromebook, which is assigned to them to use both in school and at home. In grades 9-12, students are all provided an HP 14-inch Chromebook, which is assigned to them in ninth grade and they keep through graduation.
Every district classroom is outfitted with instructional audiovisual (AV) equipment, said Joe Kuzo, QCSD’s director of technology. Hitachi interactive short-throw projectors have been installed in every elementary school classroom, the first time “we have uniform AV equipment across all elementary school buildings,” he said. “The projectors allow for interactive lessons to be created and used for instruction and learning by both the teacher and students who interact with them at the front of the room.”
Last summer, 75-inch Clear Touch interactive panels were installed on mobile carts in every Strayer classroom. The panels include a fully functional Windows PC integrated into the unit. “This allows teachers to always have technology at their fingertips and ready to go without the hassle of having to hook up their own laptops each time,” Kuzo said.
Before school began in September, teachers attended summer training to learn about the panels and how to get the most out of the software that comes with it. “We had almost all Strayer teachers in attendance and everyone seemed excited about the new technology in their classrooms,” he said.
QCSD’s Technology Department is close to its goal of placing a Virtual Reality cart in each school. “This has been a huge success,” Kuzo said. “The students are engaged while learning and exploring the content they are studying in a virtual world. The technology provides a learning experience that you simply can’t get from a book, movie, or paper. Students may never get to see underwater marine life in person, but through the use of VR they can be immersed in it with a little help from technology.”
Peach Draper, math and science instructional coach/interventionist at Pfaff Elementary School, agreed. She’s used VR technology to have kindergarten students explore trees at a maple syrup farm; first graders explore the moon and stars; second-graders taken to a dairy farm and New York City; third graders to the French Alps, Roman Colosseum, and the Great Barrier Reef; fourth graders to Philadelphia and Gettysburg; and fifth graders to the moon and a variety of stars.
“They’re so excited about it,” she said. “It motivates them. They travel and see things you just can’t see in a textbook. They see people walking in a space station. It’s like going on an amazing field trip without leaving school. The kids want to go to other places and that leads to more research, more questions. I love the conversation and the excitement that it sparks.”
Besides the obvious benefits to students, technology can also help make things more efficient for educators. “From Canvas to Google Suite, it allows me to cut down on some of the time spent on menial things so I can focus on higher-end lesson plans and have more interactions with the kids,” Deily said. “Having technology really helps streamline things.”
Erika Studer, an English as a Second Language teacher at the Sixth Grade Center, said while she’s always been “very tech-driven,” technology is “changing so quickly it’s hard even for me to keep up with the many skills students have to be taught.”
That includes teaching students how to be digitally organized, which is not something that comes naturally to them, and the importance of using technology appropriately.
“I explain to them that there are no taking pictures of anyone in class,” Deily said. “They have to develop an understanding that while technology can be a great thing, how nice and efficient it can be, they also have to know how to use it and when to use it.”
The technology resources work hand-in-hand with the district’s push to have each student prepared for college or a career after graduation. “The reality is businesses and universities expect students to use technology,” Studer said.
Draper explained that 300,000 jobs in technology are waiting to be filled. “What we’re doing is allowing the kids to explore more opportunities to really connect to the new, innovative jobs that are coming out in STEM fields,” she said. “They’re being exposed to these opportunities in our classrooms.”
Gary Weckselblatt is the director of communications for Quakertown Community School District.