By CHERIL VERNON
To put it simply, technology has changed the face of education.
No longer is a classroom restricted to just textbooks and paper as technology has opened the door to a wider array of learning tools for students.
Slocum Independent School District is one local school district that has chosen to move forward with plans to make technology a vital part of its teaching curriculum.
“By providing students with access to a variety of technology applications, the learning tools of students are greatly expanded,” Slocum ISD Superintendent Fred Fulton said.” The emphasis of the initiative has been to provide students with the skills required to use technology as a solution to solving problems and providing them with skills to be lifelong learners.
“Currently students have the opportunity to learn using a diversity of software and hardware.”
In the final phase of its four-year technology project, Slocum ISD provided each student in grades 2-12 with a personnel learning device.
One-on-one computing was started as a pilot project in grades 9-12 in the fall of 2012, but was rapidly expanded to include grades 2-8.
By the end of 2012, the district had purchased a personal netbook for each secondary student using Linux operating systems and a Nexus 7 tablet for each elementary student in grades 2-5.
The district also upgraded its wireless system to increase capacity for use of the devices.
“I think it’s very beneficial to students to be able to access information at such a high rate of speed,” Slocum High School Principal Cliff Lasiter said. “Technology is not going away. We have to prepare students for different jobs now and if you think about it, even college classes are web-based.
“I think the one-on-one initiative will benefit them which ever trade they choose, whether it’s a technical school or a traditional college,” Lasiter continued. “Students learn differently these days. They like to be entertained while they are learning and their attention spans are shorter. This allows us to have lots of tools via the web to aid in student learning.”
A good example of how this technology could be used in the classroom is Slocum High School teacher Randy Teets’ recent World War II history project.
As part of the project, students had to make 3- to 5-minute movie using video-editing software on their netbooks related to World War II, such as Battle of the Bulge, the Western Front, The Third Reich, etc.
“They had to find photos and include music from that era to go with it to tell their story,” Teets said. “We watched the movies in class and critiqued them. They really enjoy it and it breaks the monotony of lectures.
“Doing this project this way gave them a different prospective on the war than they would have by just reading a textbook.”
Teets also said that in the past students were limited to the history of what was in their textbooks — but technology in the classroom allows it to open up to the World Wide Web.
As a retired Marine, Teets explained that the two paragraphs in history textbooks don’t tell the full story of what happened when the atomic bomb were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“But when students watch a three-minute clip of the atomic bomb, that picture will stay in their mind for a long, long time,” Teets said.
The district originally embarked on the four-year technology effort in December of 2008 with the goal of increasing the ways in which teachers interact and connect with students through the use of a variety of technology applications.
In 2009, the district equipped 29 classrooms with multimedia sets — each consisting of a projector, interactive lightboard tablet and document cameras.
Use of the projectors permit teachers to provide instructional presentations from a variety of resources in a format conducive to maintaining the interest of students.
In 2011, the district installed a 24-station computer laboratory for elementary students and also made significant upgrades to the distance learning laboratory, which consists of 16 stations that allow students and teachers access to virtual learning.
Funds for the initiative were provided by grants and local funds.
“Though this initiative is complete, technology is a dynamic, requiring frequent upgrades to equipment and software,” Fulton said. “Completion of the initiative has been a significant goal achieved by the district, but constant upgrades and replacements will be required for the district to be in the forefront of the use of technology.
“The district will be required to continually evaluate the effectiveness of both hardware and software, as well as seek funding sources.”
Leading the initiative has been district technology coordinator Joel Parker, with assistance provided by principals Errin Deer and Cliff Lasiter.
The Slocum ISD Board of Trustees and Fulton provided encouragement and support to see the initiative through to completion.
“The use of technology increases student engagement in learning, but it is only one tool for educating children,” Fulton said. “An effective classroom teacher cannot be replaced, but effective use of technology by a knowledgeable teacher increases student achievement.”
At one point, Parker said students were encouraged to bring their own device to school. Since that initiative began, one out of every 10 students are participating.
“We are starting to get more iPads at the high school level and some of the older kids use their smartphones,” Parker said.
Parker, who in addition to his duties as the technology coordinator, also teaches chemistry. His class is now paperless.
“We do homework and pop quizzes — practically everything on the netbooks,” Parker said, noting the grading is automated by the program he uses, making it easier on him as a teacher. “They may listen to an audio file explaining a lecture or work on a project together. We do a lot of collaboration or group projects using this technology.”
In fact, collaborative projects don’t even have to be limited to one classroom — as teachers can allow students to work on a central document in Google Docs.
“We could even theoretically do a project with fourth graders here at Slocum and fourth graders at Westwood,” Parker suggested.
The free online class software Moodle is a cornerstone for the school as well.
“It works well for teachers who have hybrid classes,” Parker said.
According to a poll the school district conducted, 75 percent of the students have Internet service at home.
“If they don’t have Internet at home, our gymnasium is open almost all of the time and our parking lot picks up the wireless signal,” Parker said. “Students also can go to other Wifi spots in Palestine or go to a buddy’s house.”