Jefferson County Public Schools students will begin the year this week with 1,770 iPads in over a dozen different schools.
While the past few years teachers have been trying to figure out where new technology and social media fit into the classroom, iPads, Nooks, even phones are becoming more prevalent in the district, and schools have begun connecting the dots between teachers, students and parents.
Chancey Elementary kindergarten teacher Karen Stone said she surveys families at the beginning of the year to find out who has access to the Internet and who has a cell phone. Nearly all parents in her classes have one or the other.
So, students send tweets and short online voice messages–what she calls “I Can” statements–to parents throughout the day.
“They can hear what their child’s learning,” she said.
Stone has been on the forefront of pushing technology to the hands of JCPS students. She was recently granted $17,000 to have an iPad for everyone in class and she’s the only one-to-one kindergarten teacher in the district.
But she also uses Skype, which is a free video chat program.
“We had a dad in the military two years ago and he was in Afghanistan and we Skyped with him. And he Skyped with us for Veterans Day and he was able to tell use the different things people do in the military besides carry a gun…and the kids chief thing is they just thought they carried guns and so he was able to show us what he was able to show us on this base in Afghanistan,” said Stone.
There’s no doubt that online learning is here to stay and it will be growing, said Dr. Paul Lanata, director of JCPS library media services.
The role of the librarian hasn’t changed much the past decade; they still promote literacy, provide resources and work with teachers to enhance the curriculum, he said.
“But the tools that they use have changed dramatically and continue to change every day,” said Lanata.
There’s no single prescription for how much technology needs to be in the classroom and each school needs to serve its individual programs and students, he said.
But some schools have put a larger emphasis on 21st Century learning.
All schools receive the same amount of per student funding. But Lanata said it’s up to each school’s School Based Decision Making Council to allocate funds to the library and schools spend anywhere from $0 to $25 dollars per student annually.
“I’m sure they’re making some difficult decisions,” he said.
This is likely why Brandeis Elementary, which is a technology magnet school, is ahead of the curve. The school boasts a green screen and lights, like a small broadcast studio, and the students use Flip cameras to make videos.
Librarian Malaissa Bell has posted over 500 student podcasts to the cloud. A podcast at Brandeis is a short book recommendation that exists online for others to see.
“We had one girl who took nine different books home, and she took them home to India, and they visited over the winter break, and they used a Flip camera and you would see people with a backdrop of something completely different from what we have and there’s our Brandeis book right there,” said Bell.
The students do their own editing with Bell’s assistance, and the editing programs the school uses don’t cost a dime.
“The reason we use free programs is because our kids are leaving me and I want them, once they leave here, to have all the skills that they need when they go home,” said Bell.
Pat Macnamara is the librarian and media specialist at Chancey. Like Bell, her school podcasts book reviews, and she uses QR (Quick Response) Codes that connect parents with a cell phone to their child’s reviews.
“Last year, when I had some of my book reviews hanging in the hall with a student picture on them, a parent walked by, he didn’t know anything about it or how to work it and so Karen came by and downloaded the app to his phone and showed him how to scan the QR code to listen to his child’s book review,” said Macnamara.
The idea with all of this is to expand media literacy and to engage students in the technology, which they now use to communicate, said Stone.
“This is the 21st century. The students we’re teaching today, they’re digital natives. We’re the immigrants, they were born into this. And so its our responsibility to provide them with an experience an opportunity to engage technology meaningfully and responsibly. And it’s their right to have access to it,” she said.
As more technology has become integrated in schools, it’s become another way for students to engage in content, and to strengthen their communicating skills, but it’s also becoming another way to connect parents to their child’s education.