Patrick Salinas says Eagle Pass Independent School District will have 21st century technology built into more than half of its 900 classrooms by the end of the 2010–2011 school year.

Oct 19 2010

How to Bring the Mobile Devices Students Use Daily Into the Classroom

K–12 schools incorporate technology to enhance student learning and prepare students for college and the workforce.

Because today's youth spend hours playing video games, texting friends and posting pictures and opinions on social networks, Patrick Salinas wants to bring some of the same technologies into the classroom, believing that they will help keep students engaged and learning.

K–12 schools are boldly incorporating technology into their classrooms to enhance student learning and prepare them for college and the workforce.

Because today's youth spend hours playing video games, texting friends and posting pictures and opinions on social networks, Patrick Salinas wants to bring some of the same technologies into the classroom, believing that they will help keep students engaged and learning.

"We want to use technology to motivate students," says Salinas, instructional technology coordinator for the Eagle Pass (Texas) Independent School District. "Students use technology on a daily basis when they're outside of school, but when they go to school, they're faced with pencils and paper. We have to adjust to student learning patterns and keep pace with students and how they use technology."

To that end, the district has invested heavily over the past two years in new classroom technologies, including interactive whiteboards and student response systems. Like other districts, Eagle Pass is building 21st century classrooms to provide students with a technology-rich learning environment that gives them the technology skills they need to succeed in college and their future careers.

Research shows that having technology in classrooms, coupled with technology-competent teachers, improves student achievement scores, says Paul Resta, director of the Learning Technology Center at the University of Texas at Austin. But to be successful, schools must train teachers to use the technology to its full potential and create interesting, interactive lessons, according to the CDW•G 2010 21st Century Classroom Report, a recent survey of students, teachers and IT professionals.

It's also critical that students have access to technology and be allowed to use some of the tech tools they wield in their personal lives during the school day, educators say. The CDW•G report reveals that educators are using technology to teach, but that most of them aren't allowing students to use it as a hands-on learning tool, depriving them the opportunity to develop important 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, research and information fluency, and communication.

"We are losing so many students' attention – not because they aren't capable, but because they aren't interested," says Melissa Harts, director of technology and information services for Hernando County Schools, a district that comprises 22 schools in Brooksville, Spring Hill and Weeki Wachee, Fla. "We need to embrace technology and utilize it in a way so they want to come to school and have a desire to learn."

Many schools are bringing the ideals of the 21st century classroom to life in innovative ways. Here's a look at what they're doing and the specific tools they're deploying.

Building 21st Century Classrooms

After years of watching Eagle Pass ISD's 22 schools build their own patchworks of assorted classroom technologies, district leaders and school administrators have taken charge through standardization.

Before, individual schools made purchases as their budgets allowed, resulting in a hodgepodge of equipment from multiple vendors, Salinas says. In some classrooms, teachers had projectors but no document cameras. In others, they had computers but no interactive whiteboards.

Narrow the Personal/School Use Gap

Almost all students (96 percent) use technology at home to complete their class assignments. However, they use different technology in their personal lives, as do their teachers.

   Students  Faculty
   Personal Use  Educational Use  Personal Use  Educational Use
 iPods/MP3 Players  78%  29%  62%  13%
 Smartphones  38%  18%  30%  6%
 Online Text/Video Chat  58%  18%  43%  12%
 Blogs  30%  16%  26%  12%
 Digital Content  26%  33%  35%  42%
 Podcasts  23%  6%  21%  12%

SOURCE: CDW•G 2010 21st Century Classroom Report

The piecemeal approach wasn't working, so in 2008, Eagle Pass officials came up with a multiyear plan to equip each classroom with a standard set of technologies. They settled on Promethean whiteboards, AverMedia document cameras, ceiling-mounted Epson projectors, Qwizdom student response systems and notebook computers for each teacher. The district also purchased mobile computing labs for each school and now provides at least three desktop computers for students in each classroom.

Hernando County Schools' Melissa Harts believes schools "need to embrace technology and utilize it in a way so students want to come to school and have a desire to learn."

Photo credit: Alex McKnight

Salinas said standardization maximizes the budget by allowing the district to purchase equipment with volume pricing. And because everyone has the same technology, professional development has more impact.

At each school, faculty members are trained together by their grade levels and by the subjects they teach. That way, they learn together and provide support for one another during the school year. "They learned and applied these technologies as a group," he says, "and together, they were able to take adoption to the next level."

Salinas says the district focused on interactive technologies that students would actually use. With ActivSlate tablets from Promethean, for example, students can wirelessly write on the interactive whiteboards and answer problems. With notebook computers from the mobile computing cart, students can conduct online research or, for science class, use online courseware to conduct virtual lab simulations.

With student response systems, Salinas continues, teachers can poll their students to make sure they understand the concepts being taught. If a majority of student responses are incorrect, the teacher can present the material again or apply other intervention strategies. Teachers also can use the technology for quizzes. The technology's main benefit is that it engages students and stimulates in-class discussion, Salinas says.

"It allows all students to become active participants during classroom conversations," he says.

84% of high school students feel technology is important or very important to their ability to study and work on class assignments. But 43% of them say their school isn't preparing them (or are unsure if it is) to use technology in college or in the workforce.

SOURCE: CDW•G 2010 21st Century Classroom Report

A Phased Approach

When school budgets are tight, the only way to build a 21st century classroom is in phases. Hernando County Schools is taking that approach and is in the second year of a five-year plan to incorporate a standard set of technologies in its classrooms.

First, the district leased new computers, making notebook carts available in each school. Student response systems and interactive pads also are distributed among grade levels throughout the schools. An interactive pad, combined with a teacher computer and projector, allows teachers and students to wirelessly write, draw, load graphics and even play educational games on either a traditional or interactive whiteboard, Harts says.

Having purchased whiteboard technology in the past, Hernando County is now investing in new boards, standardizing on PolyVision eno. District officials purchased an initial set of 44 eno boards – two for each school – and plan to increase that number over time.

Harts aims to designate two teachers at each school as the whiteboards' "technology ambassadors." Their role, she says, will be "to show their colleagues how to use [the devices], and once we develop an interest, we'll offer more boards.

Wondering what the ideal 21st century classroom includes? Experts weigh in at and

Bringing Personal Technologies to School

The CDW•G 2010 21st Century Classroom Report notes that schools need to address the disparity between the types of technologies students use at home and those they use in schools (see Narrow the Personal/School Use Gap, above). Students and faculty are using technologies such as smartphones, blogs, and online text and video chat applications in their personal lives, but they don't use them widely at school.

And yet, some technologically advanced schools are embracing the tools students use at home and incorporating them into the educational experience. The Science Leadership Academy – a Philadelphia high school that emphasizes science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship in its curriculum – provides a notebook computer to each student and allows them to use online communications and collaboration tools so they can work together on projects.

For example, through a web portal built using Moodle, an open-source course management system, students can blog, post research on wikis and chat through forum discussions. They also use Twitter, instant messaging (IM) and video conferencing to communicate, says principal Chris Lehmann.

If students are doing homework and have questions, they can tweet questions, and teachers can respond. Children absent from school can video chat with their classmates after school to work on a group project.

"It's the idea that classrooms don't have to be defined by time and space," Lehmann says. "They talk to each other over Twitter or IM. They use the tools that make sense depending on the moment."

"Bring Your Own Technology"

Georgia's Forsyth County Schools implemented 21st century classrooms in 2005, equipping classrooms with interactive whiteboards, student response systems and other technologies. The district also provides its three-dozen schools with notebook computing carts and a handful of desktop computers in each classroom, but there aren't enough machines for every student. So district officials came up with an innovative solution known as BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology).

The BYOT program allows students to bring any computing device from home that gives them Internet access, such as a cell phone, netbook, notebook and even a handheld video game console. District leaders tested BYOT in seven schools during the 2009–2010 school year – it earned solid reviews from both students and teachers – and plan to expand the program to all of its schools during the current school year, says Jill Hobson, the district's director of instructional technology.

"We know the best scenario is to get the computer-to-student ratio to one-to-one," Hobson explains, "but the financial impact of providing a device to every student is unrealistic to us in the current economic environment. This is about leveraging what our kids already have."

Roughly 80 to 90 percent of students in the pilot classrooms are bringing their own devices to school. Students who don't have them can use the school's desktop or notebook computers, she adds.

Some schools ban cell phones and smartphones, but the University of Texas at Austin's Resta says that many of these devices are so powerful that they can and should be used for educational purposes. After all, he explains, they often come with calculators, cameras, video and audio players, web browsers and GPS capabilities.

Students want access to technology: 60% say teachers regularly use technology to teach, but only 26% say they're encouraged to use technology throughout the day.

SOURCE: CDW•G 2010 21st Century Classroom Report

At Forsyth County, students can use cell phones during a science lab and take photos during a dissection or text themselves notes, Hobson says.

Some educators fear that technology can be a distraction. But the Science Leadership Academy's Lehmann says the benefits of giving students access to modern technologies outweigh the disadvantages. He suggests that schools incorporate these tools into lessons about digital citizenship and how to use technology ethically and responsibly.

"We want to put the tools in the hands of kids and let them create and do interesting things and learn," he says.

Higher Student Achievement

Eagle Pass ISD has made steady progress over the past two years in transitioning to a 21st century classroom model. By the end of the current school year, more than half of the district's 900 classrooms will have 21st century technology built in, thanks in large part to $4 million it received in federal stimulus funds.

The technology already has made a difference, Salinas says. The region that Eagle Pass ISD serves is rural, and although most students have access to cell phones and video games, not everyone can afford computers or Internet access at home. But now all students have the access they need to succeed. In fact, the number of district campuses designated by the state as offering exemplary education has increased over the past two years.

"We can't afford for our students to be left behind with technology," Salinas says. "This is about making sure we expose students to as many different technologies as possible – and that they learn how to use and apply these technologies so they're better prepared for college and a future career."

<p>Photo credit: Alexander Aleman</p>

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