Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
Changing the way students are taught and how they learn
By Michael Brindley
One of Nancy Hamann’s first-grade students at New Searles Elementary School found a small snail while the class was outside earlier in the morning. The student brought it inside and Hamann wanted to incorporate it into what they were learning that day. Instead of having to walk around the class to show it to students, Hamann was able to use her new Samsung document camera to give the entire class a detailed view.
“It was a true teachable moment,” Hamann said.
It was made possible because Hamann’s classroom, like all classrooms at the Nashua school, is outfitted with a state-of-the-art document camera. Every class in the school also has an interactive whiteboard, an overhead LCD projector, and a connection to wireless broadband Internet. When put together and used effectively, principal Jay Harding said the technology allows for teachers to educate in ways that is more immediate ever before.
“The time of having to stop and create a transparency is gone,” Harding said. “It’s so exciting and reenergizing for the teachers. There’s a buzz among the students, too. It’s encouraging them to learn in a way that’s 21st century.”
What’s happening at New Searles is an example of the how technology can change the way students are taught and can learn. While some schools, such as New Searles, have been able to bring the most-up-to-date gadgets into the classroom through the help of grants and parent support, many districts are still struggling with the high price tag it takes to keep pace.
Kathleen McClaskey, president of EdTech Associates in Amherst, said schools must find a way. Schools are at a critical juncture, she said; the type of education students need to compete for jobs in the 21st century needs to be available to all. And it’s not always just about the cost.
“One of the really important keys is changing school culture,” said McClaskey, who consults with schools on ways to integrate technology into the curriculum. “I’m concerned that if we keep doing things the same old way, using the same old textbooks, we’ll end up with the same results. Every school has to have a real vision for how they are going to use the technology. I don’t see the commitment at all levels. I think we still have non-believers.”
In McClasky’s ideal 21st century classroom, students need to be equipped with one-to-one devices, such as netbooks or tablets, for students to learn any place and any time. Interactive whiteboards and designing lessons that provide access to all materials online are also key components of where classrooms need to be, she said.
Cyndi Dunlap, with the New Hampshire Society for Technology in Education, said the majority of New Hampshire schools have some work to do to get where they need to be technology-wise. There are public schools doing amazing things with the tools they have, but part of the problem is educating the public who are funding the schools. To keep pace with the rest of the world, more investments in technology are needed, she said.
“What we had when we were growing up is not enough for today’s schools,” Dunlap said.
One of the biggest obstacles for schools can be a lackluster Internet connection, she said. Half of New Hampshire, particularly north of Concord, does not have quality broadband access. Teachers in those schools are hamstrung, unable to take advantage of the plethora of free resources available to them on the web.
“You can’t strand a teacher with 20 or 30 kids in a classroom with no connection,” she said.
Also key is giving teachers the professional development they need to use the technology effectively, she said.
“If you have an interactive white board installed and you don’t know how to use it, it’s nothing more than a glorified large-screen TV,” she said. “You’re not tapping into the full potential.”
Nashua was one of 22 school districts in New Hampshire to receive a $200,000 technology grant through the federal stimulus package. To maximize the money’s impact, it was targeted to one school: New Searles. The school started using the money to outfit classrooms in the spring of 2010. By the 2010-11 school year, all second- and fifth-grade classes had the new equipment. Combining the school’s own budget and assistance from the PTO, the school was able to outfit all classrooms for this school year.
Robert Souter, a fifth-grade teacher at New Searles, has had his students using hand-held devices that allow them to answer questions. Souter gets an immediate response of how many students are getting the lesson and, more importantly, which are having difficulty.
“You have that feedback right at your finger tips,” Souter said. “You can break them into small groups and work with them one on one at their pace.”
In addition to the outfitting New Searles, Nashua has also purchased iPads for high school administrators, which are used to help keep their offices mobile and have access to student records and attendance at all times. Teachers are also finding ways to bring new technology into the classroom at a minimal cost, taking advantage of free web-based applications
But high-end technology isn’t the norm for the city’s schools. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, 71 percent of the Nashua School District’s desktop computers were more than eight years old, while only 8 percent were three years old or less. The value of the district’s entire technology infrastructure was $4.2 million in 2010. To replace its outdated equipment, the district would have to $700,000 each year. Instead, the district only had $10,000 set aside in 2010 for computer replacement.
For teachers, just getting a new computer can open an entirely different way of teaching. Judy Johnson, a marketing teacher at Memorial High School in Manchester, has been working with antiquated computers for 20 years. Just this year, the school was able to secure $250,000 to provide state-of-the-art computer labs for students. The school is also moving toward installing interactive white boards in the classrooms, she said. She had just gotten out a workshop on how to use the white boards in her class.
“I’m so thrilled we’re starting to put some money toward technology,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s goal for this year was to be able to work with students using Microsoft Live and 25 gigabytes of storage, which would give students and staff ways to connect outside of school to keep the learning process going after the day has ended. “Cloud computing” is the direction schools need to go in, she said.
The question, ultimately, is whether all of this technology results in improved achievements. The data has been inconclusive on whether there is a direct connection and Harding said it’s too early to draw any conclusions from the school’s standardized test scores, but said the anecdotal evidence is in the way students have been more excited about learning since.
“We’re seeing it every day with the engagement of these students,” Harding said.
Michael Brindley is an award-winning journalist and education columnist at The Telegraph.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Oct 27, 2011.