Google Rep, Teachers, Students, Demonstrate Technology Transforming Education

Math students Bella Tobar (left), Paige Hartman and Kenzie Talsma write down equations pre‐recorded online by their teacher

One class did an online math quiz on a site called BrainPOP. Another wrote down decimal equations from a video lesson pre-recorded by their teacher. Another created virtual tours abroad using Google Earth. Yet another competed in a speed quiz about anatomy with an online game from Kahoot!

All were using computers at Kenowa Hills Middle School, and all were demonstrating new ways of learning in a symposium led by the lords of high-tech: Google.

Kenowa Hills hosted the symposium for about 40 educators from West Michigan and beyond, who heard presentations by Google officials about how technology is transforming education.

Participants also observed classrooms where Kenowa teachers are using tech to provide competency-based learning geared toward individual student progress. It’s part of Kenowa’s new Journey to Excellence program, which goes hand-in-hand with the district’s commitment to pairing every student with a laptop.

Despite the glitches inherent in high-tech – and occasional abuses like cheating — Kenowa teachers touted its plusses in everything from quicker feedback for students to traveling the world via the Internet.

“By using technology, I can bring other countries to them,” said high-school Spanish teacher Mary Hurt in a panel discussion. “It’s bringing them places they’ve never been before.”

High school English teacher Grace Bollman said she stubbornly persisted in printing out assignments until she learned the advantages of Google Classroom.

“It’s made me more efficient. It’s made my students more organized,” Bollman said. “I don’t have to dump out a backpack to find a crumpled piece of paper they call their homework anymore.”

Technology teacher Kelly Kroft gives Joshua Lake some pointers about Google Earth

Accessing School at Home

Google representatives came to Kenowa out of enthusiasm for the Journey to Excellence program, which is being implemented in all grades this year, said Russell Gerbers, Kenowa’s director of technology.

“They really like the fact that we’re going through standards-based learning and mastery learning,” Gerbers said. “That’s a big push in the country now.”

Drew Sidle, regional manager of Google for Education, said in working with Kenowa he “found their energy, vision and student-first perspective inspiring.”

Kenowa’s program was highlighted in a recent report on competency-based education for Michigan superintendents, and in a district presentation this week at the Michigan Department of Education School Improvement Conference.

Kenowa Hills’ students in grades 5-12 all have laptops, and officials intend to extend that to grades K-4. That’s a national trend: One of every two U.S. children uses Chromebooks, and 30,000 new devices are opened in schools every day, Google Senior Product Manager Cyrus Mistry told the symposium in a video chat.

Participants saw technology at work in several classrooms. In Jenny Huizenga’s math class, students turned fractions into decimals by following her pre-recorded videos on their laptops. All her lessons and homework assignments are available on a Google calendar that students can access at any time.

“I can watch it when I’m at home, when I’m sick or something,” said student Taaron Laramy. “I can go at my own pace.”

In a technology class, seventh-grader Jacob Kline mapped out places in England he’d like to visit on a virtual tour. “You can see any place in the entire world,” he marveled.

Diane Titche, a teacher at Lowell’s Murray Lake Elementary, liked how Kenowa’s programs helped meet differing needs of students in the same class. Her third-graders are both more engaged and differentiated when she uses technology, Titche said.

“In any classroom, if it’s going to be useful it has to be not using technology for the sake of using technology,” Titche cautioned, “but embedding it in the lessons, where the kids are actually using it to learn.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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