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Teachers Engage Students, Parents in Using Technology for Learning

With new technology initiatives, gone are the days that the dog can eat your homework, or the letter home to parents about slipping grades could be intercepted at the mailbox. A pilot program in Sparta Area School’s classrooms is putting a tablet in the hands of students as an all in one solution for assignments, textbooks, study resources and more.

“The goal is to have one Chromebook (or iPad) per student to do homework on and act as an extension of the classroom,” said Keith Tidey, a sixth/seventh grade social studies teacher at Sparta Middle School. Tidey, along with one other teacher per grade, are using tablets in the classroom to gauge how useful they would be to roll out district wide.

Having access to the technology has already proven popular among students, “The new pilot program is great because I’m able to learn in a whole new way, work from home, and have more fun in class,” said Jasmine Gerard, eighth grade student.

Participating teachers are excited about the possibilities saying that Schoology, one of several programs used in the initiative, is a great organizational tool for both teachers and students.

“I know immediately which students need more help,” said Mar Higgins, an eighth grade language arts and social studies teacher. Higgins said this instant feedback helps her pace her instruction and focuses her lessons on subjects with the greatest need. Higgins also noted how useful Schoology is for absent students, who can easily log in and get their assignments.

Students have textbooks, research tools, notes, assignments and more in a portable chromebook

Getting Parents up to Speed

The teachers piloting the new technology recently hosted a parent technology night where parents or community members can choose from five subjects to learn more about.

The main goal for the night was transparency, said Tidey. “We’re clearing up misconceptions on how students are using the technology. It isn’t just for playtime.”

Lessons at the technology night included an overview of Schoology and PowerSchool, a tool for parent-teacher-student collaboration which gives parents instant access to their child’s progress. They also taught parents how to use Google Drive, which students have been using for their assignments and to collaborate with other students on group projects. Other sessions include information on ways technology aids in studying and time for Q&A.

“Right now many parents are at a different level of technology use than the students,” said Tidey, who explained that the recent parent-teacher conferences were student lead. He said the students were excited to show off the new ways of learning, however, the technology night was critical to getting parents caught up with the programs.

“Our teachers are proactive about reaching out and getting parents involved,” said Sparta Middle School Principal Brad Wood. “It’s exciting to get up-to-date resources into the hands of teachers and the community,” said Wood, who emphasized how important it is to get parents up to speed so they can better support their students.   

Improved Learning Environment

The fact that technology is making teaching more effective is something all of the participating teachers agreed on.

Gregg Busse, a sixth/seventh grade science teacher, said it saves time grading and that “….with a quiz or a test it is a beautiful thing.” Busse noted that with in depth assignments such as essays it may not make actual grading quicker, but having all of the submissions at his fingertips is great.

Busse explained that having online discussions brings greater potential for communications between students because they are able to contemplate something and post after they had time to do research. “With science, things are always changing, I want students to have information immediately.”

But with greater power comes greater responsibility, hinted Tidey about the accessibility of information. He explained getting information is much different than when it was only from one textbook. “We’re teaching how to use credible sources, how to look at who wrote it and cross reference information with other sources.”

Collaboration between teachers is also anticipated once the technology is in place. “I think once all of the teachers are on board we will share materials across classrooms,” said Higgins.

Jessica Buckner, a middle school grade Spanish teacher, said she already collaborates with teachers from her former school, Reeths-Puffer, by discussing lesson and project ideas using Schoology. Buckner said online discussion in the classroom is one of her favorite ways to introduce a new topic. “I put an idea online and based on how the students respond I can see what they already know and where I should start the lesson,” she said.

Buckner is also pleased with the immediacy of the information. “During a meeting I am able to see which students finished their project.”

Middle School Spanish Teacher Jessica Buckner shows how she can keep tabs on her students progress in real-time even when she isn't in the classroom

Tidey said the online instruction will help a lot with the spring benchmark testing, which is now all done online. He explained with the prior experience it will be an easier transition for the students so they can focus more on the content of their answers.

Despite minor issues, such as logins or passwords needing to be reset, the teachers agree the transition is a positive thing.

“It’s good to see change and to keep changing with it,” said Tidey, vocalizing the shared sentiment.

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Adrian Hirsch
Adrian Hirsch has been with SNN since its launch, starting as an intern from Grand Valley State University where he received a degree in broadcasting and business. After the internship, Adrian was brought on as staff to continue reporting, editing and publishing stories for SNN and Kent ISD. Adrian has been active with community radio station WYCE for years, served as Non-Profit Coordinator for GRTV, and currently works as the Web Producer for SNN.

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