By BRIAN BOHNERT
The days of dusty chalkboards and worn-out textbooks are coming to an end.
Enter the classroom of the 21st century.
The chalkboard is now the SMART Board. Textbooks have been replaced by e-books. And exams are no longer given on a piece of paper, but digitally on a crystal-clear computer screen.
For years, teachers across the country have been weaving educational technology into public and private school systems, phasing out the dated tools of the past. Gadgets like computers, tablets, interactive whiteboards and e-readers are all making their way into the forefront of a new generation of learning focused heavily on student engagement.
With the 2014-2015 school year set to begin this morning, Fostoria City Schools Superintendent Andrew Sprang said the district is remaining steadfast in its mission to provide teachers and students with new, innovative ways of utilizing technology in the classroom.
“One of the messages I always put out there is that we have to meet our kids where they’re at,” Sprang said. “Many of them have these types of devices — whether it is a (Nintendo) Wii or an iPad — they have these tech devices in their homes that they’re buzzing around on all night long … If we expect them to come into the classroom and just sit there for eight hours, that’s not going to work very well.”
According to a January 2013 national survey of teachers in grades pre-K-12, 69 percent of the instructors surveyed said educational technology allows them to do more than ever before by providing “new and exciting” ways of communicating with and motivating students in the classroom.
In fact, 71 percent of teachers using tablets in their classrooms cited the use of mobile applications as the most beneficial tool for teaching, while 64 percent cited educational websites and 60 percent pointed to the effectiveness of e-books/textbooks.
In an effort to keep students engaged in the classroom, Sprang said staffers at both Riley and Longfellow elementary schools have their very own iPad devices to access educational tools such as interactive websites and mobile applications.
One such option is BrainPOP, an animated website that offers movies, games, activities and lessons centered around science, math, English, social studies, health, arts and music, and engineering and technology.
While on the site, students can learn everything from how to write a book report to the science behind 3-D printing, and much more.
Additionally, nearly every room at Fostoria Junior/Senior High School is equipped with a SMART Board, an interactive white board system used for everything from attendance counts and digital presentations to games and activities.
“Some of the teachers use the SMART Board for everything from attendance and lunch counts to classroom activities and PowerPoint presentations,” Sprang said. “It’s good for them to see, but it also comes back to the comfort level of the instructor.”
Sprang said one of the district’s biggest hurdles has been working to make teachers more comfortable with the technology, as well as with stepping away from traditional lectures and letting the kids take the wheel.
“We’ve got to embrace the trend where the teacher is now the facilitator in the classroom,” he said. “Give (students) the parameters and then let them go out and discover.
And when you turn a kid loose on a project, they are so much more excited about what they can find. The sky is the limit for them then.”
Results from the 2013 survey indicated half of all respondents said they were “comfortable experimenting with new technology” and roughly 40 percent of teachers said they were likely to ask for educational technology in the future.
Some Fostoria teachers grasp the new technology right away. For others, it all comes down to having more time to learn.
“The biggest frustration comes when they get used to using that technology and it doesn’t work,” Sprang said. “We kind of forget that, ‘wait, we taught for generations without that, so we can make it work for a day or something.'”
In preparation for the first day of school, Sprang said the administration spent much of the summer upgrading the wireless network throughout all the buildings in the district.
Fostoria Junior/Senior High School underwent its upgrade back in December, while Longfellow, Riley and Fostoria Intermediate Elementary School underwent the process this summer.
While it’s not something students and teachers will be able to physically see, Sprang said the upgraded network will allow for faster Internet speeds, more wireless connectivity, and fewer instances of users getting booted from the server.
“When you’ve got 54 minutes to instruct your kids, you don’t want to spend 30 of those trying to get your tech working,” he said.
As for the future, Sprang said he would like to develop a five-year plan for how the district will further implement technology into the classroom setting, including the potential distribution of tablets to students in FCS.
“If we do it, obviously there is a huge upfront expense,” he said. “It’s not cheap to get a device for every kid; but, by doing that, you’ve got that consistency as opposed to having students bring their own device.
“We can have the world at our fingertips. You don’t have to wait two weeks to have a textbook shipped from library to library. We can digitally download things. There are a lot of exciting pieces to that.”
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