Back to school: Technology becoming more prevalent

Students entering Northeast Mississippi classrooms this fall are stepping into a world becoming more saturated with technology. Districts are turning to computers and interactive projectors as they try to reach students growing up surrounded by video games and cellular phones.Schools are trying to answer the challenge of industry leaders who say they need future hires to be trained in technological skills.
“Schools look totally different than what they did 10 or 15 years ago,” said New Albany Assistant Superintendent Jackie Ford. “The biggest thing I’ve seen is that it can cause an extension of the school day, and there is that school-to-home connection more than you had before.
“If students love what they’re doing in class, and if they have a computer at home, they’re going to go home and get on the Internet and work on it.”
In the Tupelo Public School District, Superintendent Randy Shaver is using an ambitious laptop initiative to transform the way students are taught.
For the first time this year, every sixth- to 12th-grade student in the district will be issued an Apple laptop, which they will keep for the entire year, as students in the past have been issued textbooks.
The goal, Shaver has said, is to use the new technology to turn classrooms into what he calls “21st Century Learning Environments.”
Students will often work in groups, using the machines to create projects and to develop movies. Teachers will encourage them to delve into research and learn topics that go deeper than what could be found in textbooks.
“We are teaching collaboration and creativity and those are two of the most important skills business leaders want our students to master,” Shaver said in October when Tupelo announced its new program. “My goal is for every student to become an independent lifelong learner.”
Many districts have also expanded their technological repertoire by putting interactive white boards in classrooms. Some of the devices come with clickers that allow students to answer questions posed by teachers and let teachers instantly see how everyone answered.
Others allow teachers to show videos or interactive graphics or three-dimensional images in a way they couldn’t do on a traditional projector screen.
“Technology is extremely important in the instructional process,” said Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress. “While technology cannot take the place of a classroom teacher, it can certainly enhance the instructional practices a classroom teacher uses.”
Childress said his district will continue to expand the number of computers it uses in its schools and will also add interactive white boards at all of its schools.
Two different types of those interactive boards are Promethium and Mimio boards.
The Lee County School District has added Mimios at all of its kindergarten to fifth-grade schools and Promethiums at its middle and high schools, particularly in subjects measured by the state test.
“The most important thing about these technologies is how they engage the students when properly used,” Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott said. “Our children are now at that age where technology is what engages them and keeps their attention.”
Pontotoc Superintendent Adam Pugh said his district has purchased several interactive boards and is also trying to add some new Apple computers. This year, the district will have carts of Apple laptops for students at the middle school and the junior high.
Pugh said he’d like to see the district get to the point where it can put podcasts of short lessons on its website for parents and students to watch at home.
“We want to utilize technology to its fullest potential, and we know it is a tool that will help us get better,” Pugh said.
Alcorn County Superintendent Stacy Suggs said his district has used its stimulus money to add interactive boards and to install a communication system that allows parents access to check their children’s grades. They’ve also added reading and writing programs students can access at home via the Internet.
“It is vital that we as adults keep up with our kids in terms of technology,” Suggs said.
Among the challenges posed by the flood of technology is that experienced teachers may not be the experts. In some cases, the students may even be more familiar with the new tools than their teachers.
Scott said educators should be aware of those challenges and not afraid of them. He said in some cases, the district is using its younger teachers to lead professional development for more experienced ones.
A big part of getting the most out of technology is having teachers trained to use it. Ford said teachers in New Albany are spending time this summer receiving such training. Much of it focuses on learning more about the interactive boards.
“Our teachers have been using them for a year, but they needed a step up,” Ford said. “The more you work with it, the more you want to learn it and fit it in the curriculum.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal