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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Patrick Kaplo is connected to his students' Mac laptops with an iPad during an interactive quiz during a science class at Windham High School Monday, March 28, 2011. White board technology is also available.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Patrick Kaplo is connected to his students' Mac laptops with an iPad during an interactive quiz during a science class at Windham High School Monday, March 28, 2011. White board technology is also available.
Sunday, April 3, 2011

Technology, innovation go hand in hand in the classroom

Put away your cellphones? Not in Nick Audley’s classroom.

Using a Web-based program called Poll Everywhere, Audley, a social studies teacher at Nashua High School South, has students in his class use their cellphones to text in their answers to problems. In seconds, their answers are tabulated and come up on the overhead screen at the front of the class.

Depending on the lesson, students can also text in narrative answers to open-ended questions.

“It becomes a running blog as we’re discussing a topic,” Audley said.

The advantage for the students? They’re using technology they own and are comfortable with.

The advantage for teachers? It gives them real-time results and it keeps the students engaged.

“It twists the use of the cellphone into the class,” Audley said while sitting in his classroom earlier this month. “The best part? It doesn’t cost a dime.”

It’s that second part – no cost – that makes innovation like this possible for teachers such as Audley who are constantly exploring ways to use technology to enhance learning.

When examining innovation in the classroom, it’s impossible to ignore technology. Whether it’s working with students to create digital portfolios or using sites such as Moodle to bring the class online, teachers are increasingly looking to technology to improve the learning experience and student achievement.

The key is to make sure the technology is getting results, said Michael Horn, co-author of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Horn said there is a danger in stockpiling the latest gadgets without focusing on the substantive change they can bring.

“The gadget becomes the victory rather than the actual change in learning process and outcomes,” Horn said.

Technology has helped schools redefine the role of teachers from a person just delivering information to playing the role more as a mentor and a motivator, Horn said. It can also help cut costs, particularly through the use of online learning, he said.

Taking advantage of the devices students are already bringing to the classroom, similar to Audley’s use of cellphones, is also effective, Horn added. Surveys have shown assumptions that minority students are less likely to have cellphones or Internet connections have been proven false, he said.

“In terms of mobile connectivity, the digital divide does not really apply anymore,” he said.

Teaching the teachers

While technology may be driving innovation, Sarah Marandos, a technology integration specialist for the Nashua School District, believes all the computers in the world won’t do any good without the creativity and ingenuity of educators.

“Teachers are still doing the innovation,” Marandos said. “The technology is just helping them get there.”

Marandos works with teachers to introduce more technology in their classrooms. She recently worked with an English teacher who used a site called Glogster to work with students on designing digital posters. The students are able to embed video, find content and publish the final products to the Web.

“Teachers realize they need to prepare students for the digital world,” she said.

Marandos also worked with Audley to help explore the possibilities of Poll Everywhere. Schools traditionally have implemented strict policies against using cellphones, but Marandos said it’s foolish to ignore the fact that most students are walking around with small computers in their pockets.

“It’s manageable for the teacher, it’s exciting for the kids and it enhances the learning experience,” she said.

Technology can be used to reach both high-end learners and students who have struggled, she said.

And most important, Marandos said she and other teachers keep costs in mind, making use of the plethora of free sites and programs out there. Marandos and Audley are waiting to hear about a grant application to buy iPod touches for his classroom.

Instant feedback

With cost in mind, some schools look to partnerships with outside organizations to make their innovation happen.

Walking around his classroom at Windham High School, science teacher Patrick Kaplo tallied the answers to a question about circuit theory as they came into his iPad.

“Only 10 percent of the class answered that correctly,” Kaplo said. “We just went over this.”

Now knowing the students hadn’t picked up on the lesson, Kaplo went over it again.

Later in the same quiz, Kaplo asked a different question. Every student got it right, so he moved on.

It’s what Kaplo called a “click quiz,” which has students answering the questions on their own laptop computers.

As the students log on and the answers to each question come in, Kaplo gets an instantaneous reading of whether students are getting it.

“I can collect hard data and it will tell me where they are,” he said. “For the students, it gives them an understanding of where they are, too.”

In the “old days,” as Kaplo put it, teachers would have to rely on the students to let them know when they’re falling behind.

That isn’t easy for students to admit, and often, they won’t be forthcoming, Kaplo said.

The school has eight iPads on loan as part of a partnership with the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Kaplo is using one in his instruction.

Later in the year, he plans to distribute the rest among the class to see what students can do with them.

Ultimately, the devices may be fun to play with, but Kaplo said they also need to add something substantive to the learning process.

Later in the class, Kaplo logged on to the class’s Moodle page and walked students through a narration he recorded in which he explained the answers to the quiz he just gave.

A 2008 Milken Educator Award recipient, Kaplo said technology is changing at such a rapid pace that it’s difficult at times to keep up.

But teachers are doing what they can, he said.

“It’s easy to point to teachers as slow to move, especially under this climate of union pressure,” Kaplo said. “But I think in any field, being able to change quickly is really a tough thing to do. It takes a certain mind-set to dump the old thing and start something new again.”

Where students have no trouble picking up how to use new devices, Marandos said there is a learning curve for teachers.

Any investment in technology needs to come with some type of professional development aspect, she said.

“If they don’t know how to use it, it’s just going to sit in the back of the room,” Marandos said.

A federal boost

At New Searles Elementary School in Nashua, staff members have spent the year making use of an influx of technology that came courtesy of the federal stimulus package. The school received a $200,000 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Nashua was one of 22 districts across New Hampshire to be awarded a portion of the $3.2 million sent to the state as part of a national initiative to upgrade technology in the classrooms.

New Searles teachers have been working with students using interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, student response systems and netbooks, among other things.

Fifth-grade teacher Jim Hansen said it has rejuvenated his passion for teaching.

“It allows you to innovate and captivate their interest,” he said.

In terms of results, the teachers said they have never seen students more interested and engaged in the learning process.

Students have been able to produce reports using programs such as PowerPoint and Glogster.

They can research online from their desks, gather the data and put it into their reports.

When student results show some are falling behind, there is an immediate response time so teachers can give focused intervention to that group.

“That’s direct instruction, right on the spot,” fifth-grade teacher Rob Souter said.

Maximizing the money

New technology doesn’t come cheap.

Nashua School District Superintendent Mark Conrad has bemoaned the district’s lack of commitment to computer replacement in recent years and has set aside $400,000 in next year’s budget for that purpose.

A recent district report found that of the 2,885 desktop computers in use in the district, 2,074 – roughly 70 percent – are 6-10 years old.

Marandos said one the way the district hopes to maximize its technology investment is by creating a competitive grant process within the city’s schools. Teachers can apply for a share of money set aside and a committee will determine which proposals will be funded.

Some schools in Nashua have purchased iPads for varying reasons, Conrad said. Two iPads were purchased for Fairgrounds Elementary School using Title I federal funding. Conrad said administrators at the school are piloting a software program that helps in providing feedback to teachers. The administrators carry the iPads with them during classroom observations.

“It is our expectation that by recording classroom observations through the software program, the principal will be able to create a record of observations over time, which will assist the teacher in improving his or her classroom teaching,” Conrad wrote in an e-mail.

The iPads at Nashua High North were purchased to help administrators track attendance. Each iPad cost $499.

The money for the iPads at North came from the school’s general allocation fund, which this year was $212,447.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.