Oct 11 2006

Sensible Technology for Educators

Readers discuss creative technology use in the classroom, securing school information and ensuring accessibility for all students.

When it comes to technology and education, the main thing is practicality. Readers want to see actual uses of technology. And the more wireless coverage, the better. Right now, we use wireless technology and have a hub for a portable technology lab that students can take advantage of. I can take my laptop to any school in the district and access my files thanks to our wireless connection.

Providing information on how educators and administrators are using their technology and including it in their curriculum so that it’s not all fun and games, will ensure that CDW•G Ed Tech keeps its readers interested.

—Dr. Terri Carman, Principal, North Elementary School, Des Plaines, Ill.

We agree with your sentiments on practicality. What is effective—what works—is a great test of any technology. Wireless is a vital area, and CDW•G Ed Tech will have continuing coverage of this in every issue, including our How To story (p. 24), which addresses the effective use of wireless local area networks in several school districts nationwide. 

Securing School Data

Your article on security in schools (Remotely Secure, Spring 2003) really struck a chord.

As districts across the nation deal with the mandates of No Child Left Behind Act and the Family Educational Rights and Policy Act, the issues of security and access are rising to the surface in the school technology arena. Because the technology is available, people assume information should be accessible.

As such, districts are faced with a balancing act between providing information and providing protection. While districts have policies in place for access to paper data that is usually secured by physical means, most districts do not have a tech security policy in place for electronic data that also needs to be secured in some way.

To tackle tech security, school districts must define who needs access to these formerly “For your eyes only” files and to what degree the general community needs to participate in the decision-making process. The Palo Alto Unified School District believes districts must err on the side of caution and has developed standards, policy and procedure to deal with tech security and access.

—Marie Scigliano, Director of Information Technology,
Palo Alto Unified School District, Palo Alto, Calif.

—John Tuomy, Member, Board of Education,
Palo Alto Unified School District

Security and access issues in the face of new technology are indeed important policy areas. We will continue providing school districts with articles pertinent to changes in these and other areas as technology forces leaders to rethink business-as-usual. Read the Cutting Edge article (p. 34), Thin-Clients Go to School, which will explore issues of access with server software now being used in school settings.

The Pursuit of Truly Innovative Technology

The search for new tech curriculum tools is getting more and more frustrating. It’s difficult for technology teachers to find resources because it’s all so new. Unfortunately, I have to buy software first and let the software dictate the lesson. It’s like teaching science by letting the textbook dictate what you teach. There is a huge amount of educational computer software out there. In my opinion, 90 percent of it is junk. Some software is educationally relevant but exceptionally boring. It won’t hold students’ interest, providing little motivation to learn. Many programs are filled with great graphics, animation and action and the kids love them, but they provide little in the way of learning.

I have found a few good educational software titles that students actually like. There’s not a lot out there in the way of technology curriculum, and I’m always looking for new ideas (I even go to search engines and type in “educational technology” to see what I get). That’s why a magazine like yours is so important.

—George Gubbins, Computer Teacher, St. Anthony School, Tigard, Ore.

It’s exciting to hear about your passion for answers. There are so many great teachers around the country who are on a quest for excellence not just in software, but toward creating truly enriching educational experiences. Please see the Editorial Opinion from George Lucas (p. 54), where he suggests several approaches to keeping students interested and learning.

Technology Leadership in the Classroom

I recently received the “Making It Happen Award” from the MACE (Mid-America Computers in Education) Technology Institute for using technology with students and exhibiting technology leadership with my peers. I am a master teacher for NTTI (The National Teacher Training Institute), and incorporate various media interaction techniques for instructional television and the Internet in the classroom.

An example of one of my lessons that incorporates technology focuses on habitats. In teams, the children research a specific habitat using books and the Internet. Each team then applies this knowledge as they create a “neighborhood” of a theme park. Students then write reports informing visitors of their habitat’s location, weather, threats and animal inhabitants. Finally, students are videotaped persuading guests to spend time on their rides and protect the environment!

I am a firm believer in the fact that teachers need to be exposed to different technology tools that are available and how to use them in their classrooms for the overall benefit of their students. The information is educational and fun for both the students and the teachers.

—Kari Stubbs Goheen, Third-grade Teacher, Prairie Star Elementary School, Leawood, Kan.

Congratulations on your achievements. You are indeed making it happen in the habitat of your classroom. Your ideas need to be protected and encouraged. Stay with us for more exciting uses of technology that support enriching learning experiences. Our Teaching the Teacher story (p. 14) shows how teachers who double as technologists have a tremendous impact on developing curricula and moving trends forward.

Addressing Student Accessibility Concerns

It’s hard for teachers to stay on top of things when curriculum is constantly changing. But when it comes to using technology to teach students with disabilities, change can definitely be good. I think the traditional ways in which we teach may make content inaccessible to students with disabilities.

Fortunately, there are computer programs that help correct this problem. For instance, there is software that uses the pitch of a bell sound to help blind students visualize how a graph looks. If we grant students with disabilities access to content by allowing them to use all of the senses they have—and not focusing on the ones they don’t—we don’t limit what they learn. That puts them at an advantage when dealing with the world around them.

—Kellie Huhn, Math Teacher, Holt High School, Holt, Mich.

Well said. Focusing on a person’s strengths is an approach that goes a long way with any individual. Technology can support student achievement and offer all students the opportunity to learn. Please see Luring Them to Learn (p. 40).

Reader Spotlight

Palms Make Education Hands-On at Forsyth

At Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville, N.C., Palm handhelds extend learning beyond the classroom. For three years, 930 students in the private school’s pre-K–12 have used them to do everything from download English textbooks to track Alaska’s annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Assistant Headmaster Eric Peterson says Forsyth chose handheld computers in order to make technology a more practical part of student education. School officials consulted with several education experts, including those at Wake Forest University in nearby Winston-Salem. Requiring students to buy Palms costs less than adding classroom computers. “We were looking for flexibility, cost effectiveness, ease of use and utility,” Peterson says. “Those factors led us to choose the Palms.”

Director of information technology Michael Seymour says Forsyth initially sold handhelds at the school store. The school subsequently found it easier for students to purchase Palms at local retailers who offer discounts.

The Palms became a hit with teachers, students and their parents, Seymour says. “I think the parents like the fact we’re pushing the envelope with technology,” he adds.

Seymour adds that teachers often beam notes to the students’ Palms at the end of classes. Peterson says the school couldn’t directly attribute academic improvement to the Palms, yet they do help students with note-taking and organizing assignments.

Anything that gives the school’s highly motivated students an edge is welcomed. Seymour notes that annually, its entire senior class chooses to attend college. “They’re bright kids,” he says.

Younger students also use Palms in their daily learning. An eighth-grade student was so impressed with Palms, he developed software for them called “HW Diary,” Peterson says. The program features a homework diary and a section where parents or teachers can sign report cards.

The focus at Forsyth is helping students learn. “We want to use technology to meet certain goals in the classroom,” Seymour says. Future school plans include a wireless technology conversion that would allow students to use cell phones, laptops and other Web-enabled devices for multi-platform education connectivity.

For now, the Palms help make learning interesting. “A lot of kids enjoy using them,” Seymour adds.


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