By Susan Riddell
Taylor Marshall, a language arts teacher at Frankfort High School (Frankfort Independent), was listening to NPR recently and heard a discussion about how every single piece of information has a monetary value.
“It won’t be long before anything and everything can be found online,” said Marshall, who is in his fifth year of teaching. “Student access to this information allows me to be a facilitator of information and skills. Regarding our lessons, all of the facts are online, which allows me to focus on the deeper learning aspects of reading and writing.”
Marshall is one of the four teachers who helped bring the Internet to students during class time thanks to a pilot program that allowed students to use handheld devices.
“The devices ran the gamut from iPhones to iPods to iPads to the PC and Android devices,” Marshall said. “We used them almost every day for something.”
David Cook, director of Innovation and Partner Engagement for the Kentucky Department of Education, said he appreciates the steps some districts are taking by being more open to using handheld devices for learning.
“One of the positive steps is that many districts are changing their policies on the use of personal devices and allowing students to be able to use those devices in classrooms,” Cook said. “To me the learning benefits far outweigh concerns about misuse. If you provide teachers with good professional learning experiences about the effective use of these devices, kids will be engaged, and you won’t need to worry about inappropriate uses. Access to the Internet during class time is far more powerful than any textbook.”
District technology coordinator Tim Smith said the intent of this effort was not only to maximize learning but to better prepare students for this year’s 1:1 Dell Netbook initiative.
“If teachers are using tools for instructional purposes, students can use any device or application that will accomplish the task,” Smith said. “Teachers and students will operate in a 21st-century learning environment this upcoming school year. Students will upload assignments electronically through their courses in Moodle, communicate through Skype or e-mail, create documents and other products with computer applications, and utilize databases and interact with information using many electronic information sources.
“Our district will strive to become paperless and minimize the use of textbooks, thus saving the district resources,” Smith added.
Marshall’s classes include AP English Language and Composition; English II; and Film and Literature Analysis. He said Android cell phones were more common in his classroom, but there was a generous mix of handheld and laptop devices. The variety had no bearing on the lessons, he said.
“Most utilized similar apps, and the Internet is the same on all,” Marshall said. “The students’ abilities allow them to be utilized effectively, and their skills manipulating the devices made up for any differences.”
Marshall and his students routinely used Poll Everywhere for surveys or question-and-answer sessions. “We sent texts as exit slips and could answer online surveys using texting,” he said. “Students would free-write on their phones or write mini four-minute papers on their phones.
“If I forgot something or needed to check my data, I had a student fact-check me using Google,” he added. “The technology allowed me to teach skills deeply because the students had access to the surface information in their hands.”
The few students who didn’t have handheld devices last year shared with others, Marshall said.
When students in grades 7-12 receive netbooks this year, students will still be allowed to use their hand-held devices, as long as the teacher approves.
Marshall said a student using his or her phone for personal use wasn’t an issue in his classroom.
“In my class, students had their phones out when I asked for them to be out; otherwise, the phones are put away to minimize distraction,” he said. “Classroom management fixes the problem. The phones can be used effectively in the same way that our netbooks will be used effectively. Teachers will plan to ensure the technology is used to provide students with rigorous, engaging work.”
Smith said Frankfort middle and high schools are both going paperless this fall, primarily using Moodle for instructional purposes.
“We’re also going away from the textbook idea,” Smith said. “We’re more about what teachers want kids to know and finding the appropriate resource for that. There’s so much out there.
“This is real-world stuff,” Smith added, “and it really changes the classroom.”