Teaching with new technology

Educational technology has changed teaching styles as it becomes more accessible for every day use in school.

From the ceiling of Jessica Barger’s Algebra II classroom hangs a silver metal box, projecting a Powerpoint from the teacher’s new computer. The students use black rectangular remotes to answer questions from the Powerpoint and their answers are recorded on the teacher’s computer.

After the quiz, the teacher picks up a white rectangular slate from her desk and starts writing equations. The equations are projected on the screen, while she walks around the room.

Today’s classrooms have changed drastically since just a few years ago due to the new technology introduced by the district.

According to associate principal Tom Moss, teachers have integrated new technology into their teaching style.

“I think everyone agrees that the newer teachers accept the new technology because they grew up with it,” Moss said. “It’s not just the young kids using it; all the staff has taken it on.”

Northwest paid for the technology from the district budget of $1.7 million and from funds raised for district construction. No cuts have affected the budget yet, and Moss does not expect to see a decrease in the amount of money spent on technology in the future.

Biology teacher Linda Brewer said the district had been very helpful with updating the school’s technology.

“They’re very pro-technology,” she said.

Combining old and new

The art department received 25 new iMacs this year. The district updates the art computers on a five-year cycle during which one Shawnee Mission high school receives new computers each year, according to art instructor Melinda Heaton.

Heaton combines the computers with traditional teaching methods. Photo I students only use the darkroom, while Photo II and Photo Advanced students combine darkroom and computer techniques.

“They can appreciate what the computer has to offer because they jump through the hoops to get it ,” Heaton said.

Art teacher Melinda Heaton guides junior Siobhan Barrett on one of the 25 new iMacs the art department received in August.
Art teacher Melinda Heaton guides junior Siobhan Barrett on one of the 25 new iMacs the art department received in August.

With Photoshop and computers, the students learn to do the same thing electronically.

Heaton said her lab is unlike any other in the district. No other high school has both computers and darkrooms in one main room.

“I love my lab. It makes it very easy to combine the traditional and the contemporary in this setup. I am the only one in the district to have this setup, and for that I am very grateful,” she said.

Commercial art classes also use the computers to design logos, posters, T-shirts and brochures. The designs are used by the theater department, After Prom, Student Council and plant sales. Students do not receive money for their work, instead, they receive a printed copy of their design to add to their portfolio.

Although the computers caused minor problems at the beginning of the year, Heaton said she didn’t think technology made life harder.

Students weren’t able to log in or log off, or access their preferences from last year. Only three out of five computers were working.

“It’s just an extra tool for me and for the students to use,” she said. “It’s not necessarily better or worse; it’s just different.”

SMART technology

Desktop computers aren’t the only tools that help students learn. Math teachers use the SMART AirLiner, a 6-inch by 8-inch lightweight, interactive slate that has changed the way they teach. SMART produces interactive white boards and other group collaboration tools, according to its website.

The SMART AirLiner has a tethered pen that allows the user to draw any math problem or write any note on the white slate. The slate transfers the teacher’s drawings to the computer which projects its onto the screen in front of the classroom.

The AirLiner is cordless, so teachers have the freedom to roam their classroom instead of being stationed in the front of the room at a desk with a computer.

Senior Grant Brady utilizes a graphing calculator in Calculus 3/Differential Equations. Although advanced calculators like these are not provided by the district, they are a part of the everchanging technology used at school.
Senior Grant Brady utilizes a graphing calculator in Calculus 3/Differential Equations. Although advanced calculators like these are not provided by the district, they are a part of the everchanging technology used at school.

Math teacher Jessica Barger said she is a fan of using technology such as the AirLiner to enhance the learning experience for her students.

“I got it before most of the school, but the entire math department received them two years ago in August,” Barger said.

Each teacher spends about one day in training for the AirLiner, but the people who understand the most are the ones using it every day, Barger said.

Sophomore Taylor Garies said AirLiners help students stay interested.

“It helps us understand the problems better, because it’s more visual and we can see everything better.”

Teachers can post notes they have written online by exporting them into a PDF file and posting the document on their Web Backpack, allowing students to access the information in the case of absence. Barger said she experienced very little trouble with technology except for the occasional battery problem.

“Overall, the positives by far outweigh the negatives,” Barger said.

Another aspect of the SMART technology is the document camera. The document camera projects anything placed under the camera, like a page from a textbook or student work, onto a screen at the front of the room. The math department has been applying for grants for document cameras. They currently have 10 document cameras and are looking to receive more this year.

“I don’t have a scanner in my room, so if there’s something I need to project, then I can easily use the document camera,” Barger said.

Mixed feelings

Not all teachers think technology has made life easier. Psychology and English teacher Amy Walker has mixed emotions about technology in school. Although it improves the classroom environment in several ways, she thinks it may have become too big of an element in students’ lives.

“It helps enhance lessons in a lot of ways, but students have also become dependent on the technology,” Walker said.

According to Walker, students tend to focus on writing down the information when using a projector, but may not absorb all of the information presented. Due to students’ reliance on this technology, she balances her lessons in her senior English class by using her projector sparingly.

“The last half of my seniors’ year, we don’t use the projector often if we’re covering background on a novel,” Walker said.

On the other hand, Walker thinks the projector helps students comprehend and remember the lesson.

“Not only are they reading the information, but I’m speaking to them and they can write it as well,” Walker said.Laptop

Laptops and the student response system, known as clickers also play an important role in her teaching methods, especially for psychology. Programs such as PsychSim provide her with interactive activities that help her teach about the brain in ways she finds beneficial, especially for visual learners. Tests and reviews are also easier with the clickers, because answers are graded electronically.

“ allow for immediate feedback on the tests, and show the areas the class as a whole understands and needs to work on,” Walker said.

Biology teacher Debra Brewer also thinks that technology in schools is improving the way we learn, but when relied on too much, it can cause disaster.

“If the Internet is down, my day is shot. Some people cannot modify their plans,” Brewer said.

Brewer thinks another problem, although rare, is students becoming lazy learners. For example, they have become too dependent on Powerpoint note slides and don’t know how to find other sources of information.

Brewer uses several types of technology, including the ELMO (to aid students with visuals during dissections, her Airliner for notes and the Beyond Question clickers for test reviews and daily science questions. Brewer likes the immediate feedback that clickers provide, so she can see what she needs to focus on to prepare her students for tests.

Although Brewer thinks that technology is beneficial to students, it requires her to always adapt and learn new things.

“I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I have been adapting to technology for 18 years,” Brewer said. “There is always something new to learn.”

-Lauren Komer, Rachel Alvey, Rachel Ferencz