The Transylvania Times -

Everyday Education: What? Computers In Elementary Schools?

 

September 4, 2017

Courtesy Photo

Computers never replace teachers, as Monica Bickford demonstrates when assisting her fifth-graders.

The third grade student in Tammy Buckner's Rosman Elementary School classroom is proud as punch. Her job this week is technology. She is unplugging the Chromebooks from the charging cart and distributing them to her classmates. Each child has a device to use when academically appropriate, times that occur almost daily in this Transylvania County public school.

As a matter of fact, this same scenario plays out in every elementary school in the school system this year. Even kindergarteners and first graders will have the opportunity to use a computing device - a Chromebook, a hybrid tablet, or a touchscreen - most days throughout the school year.

The children learn quickly. Step into Jennifer Corn's second grade T.C. Henderson classroom the first week of school and it's slow going. Students are using a Chromebook keyboard, some for the first time. She's walking them through, step-by-step, how to access their Google Classroom and then how to log into a math program called Moby Max. Her ultimate goal today is to quickly assess where each student is in remembering his or her math skills from last year. By the end of her scheduled math time, she will know exactly what each child remembers; her teaching can begin at that specific point in understanding for each child as early as tomorrow.

Just across the hall, however, in Nichole Cash's fourth grade classroom, children have seamlessly transitioned from lunch to math centers. They already understand the login process and know exactly where to go when their teacher announces, "You have three seconds to go to your first center."

Some students stay at their desks, using their Chromebooks to practice their math skills on their math program of choice - Cash has five they can choose from - while another group joins Cash to learn math vocabulary involving place value. A third group works with Mrs. Ayers, the teacher assistant, to review order and place value using a deck of cards and erasable white boards. Two boys work on their own, one reviewing concepts in his workbook, the other using his device to complete an enrichment activity.

Several things are evident in this classroom:

1.A lot of math is happening-on paper, with real items like a deck of cards, on the devices, and in direct teacher/student interaction. This is in part because students know where to go, what materials to use, and they are allowed some freedom to choose how they learn a particular concept.

2.Many students are working at different levels; their learning is being differentiated by the teachers, aided at times by the software programs she's assigned.

3.Kids love using their computers! As every teacher I talked with said, "They're engaged. When they are engaged, learning is taking place."

4.The technology is only a part of what goes on in these classrooms. As T.C. Henderson principal Audrey Reneau observes, "Computers will never take the place of the teachers. We just use technology to our advantage. We can't allow students to go back into the Dark Ages just because they come to school. This is their world; their parents use them - they've been playing with their parents' phones since they were babies. We use computers to explore, to practice skills, and to research. It opens the world to our students."

As Rosman Elementary School principal Scott Strickler said, "It would be irresponsible not to use technology with our students!"

Absolutely, but we're asking a lot of teachers, especially elementary teachers. In order to manage a classroom of elementary students, each with his or her own device, it takes a lot of preparation, what we educators call "front-loading."

Even though the district has a list of vetted websites and software, teachers must still link each one, and each activity, to the state standards. They have to be familiar enough with each site to help students if they encounter a problem. Fifth grade RES teacher Monica Bickford even had to re-word a single problem for students because the "right" answer was incorrect.

They have to know specifics like "this student is at this level of knowledge and thus will benefit from this resource," while another child who is at a different level needs another resource altogether, and then make sure the link is in the individual child's Google Class page!

They all feel a real responsibility to prepare their students for middle school and beyond. They realize that their children will ultimately take home their devices once they are sixth graders, so digital citizenship is a priority.

They also feel an obligation to teach them how to use the district chosen platform, Google Classroom. They will gradually teach their students how to create a document and share it with their teacher or classmates.

Courtesy Photo

RES teacher Tammy Buckner assists students with their first online activities of the year on Free Rice (freerice.com), a website that delivers practice on math facts and donates free rice to help end hunger.

They'll assign projects so they'll learn to collaborate online, choose how to present their information and how to ensure that their information is relevant and reliable.

And when a parent or grandparent says, "But we didn't have computers and we learned just fine," they'll answer as Tammy Buckner does, "Well, neither did I, but we live in a different world. This is how their world is moving. I don't want companies to go out of this country to hire workers. I want them to hire our kids. Now, I don't want them to stare at a computer all day. But I do want them to know this is a tool. That anything they want to know, they can find. They have the world in their hands. If they can find it, they're golden!"

(Frances Bryant Brad-burn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.)

 
 

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