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A generation or so ago, when a class was studying the building of the pyramids, the development of the airplane or the wonders of the deep blue sea, the teacher might show a film strip on the subject.
A film projector would be checked out from the library, and a student would be enlisted to thread the film through the machine.
The shades were drawn, a projection screen was pulled down over the chalkboard, and the lights were turned out.
When the switch was flipped, a flickering movie transported students to a faraway place.
Today’s students can have a similar experience — minus the old-time mechanics.
In this new age of education, every Wilson County Schools classroom is outfitted with a digital projector. It’s just one example of how modern technology has been infused into teachers’ lesson plans from kindergarten to high school.
Educators can access clips from the internet and present 30 seconds worth, five minutes worth or whatever amount best supplements their lesson plan.
“That part is very good, the fact that you can pull resources,” said Marquis Spell, principal of Springfield Middle School. “If you are reading a book, you can pull a clip from a movie, if the movie is appropriate. We can also show some live things that we couldn’t a few years ago.”
“I think it builds the background knowledge for the kids,” said Lucama Elementary School fourth grade teacher Brittany Phillips. “A lot of our kids don’t get a chance to experience things outside of Wilson County or outside of North Carolina, so it gives them a chance to explore things in other places without having to physically leave the classroom. It widens their horizons.”
Virtual reality goggles are enhancing the richness of those experiences.
“They love those in the school,” Spell said. “You can actually see it, and it feels like you are there because it’s 3D. You can turn your head left to right, and the actual picture moves left to right. It can be ancient times or up to now. It can be a roller coaster ride. It’s real-looking. The kids love it, and it can take a place they could not go years ago.”
The students get to feel like they are actually there.
“The kids are in awe,” Spell said.
Phillips said when students are able to connect what is read with what is seen and heard, it definitely affects their retention.
“Our instructional technology facilitator helped us do one on ecosystems; with the VR goggles, they got to see each ecosystem,” Phillips said. “They had seen in it the textbook and in different articles, but when you actually get to feel like you are there and experience that part of it, they loved it.”
“There is less talking the teacher has to do when they can actually see,” Spell said. “They remember when they can see those things. It puts a picture in your mind. Me reading will take you one place, but me reading it and you seeing in front of them does something different for them, even for grown folks.”
LAPTOPS REPLACE BOOKS
In Brittany Phillips’ class, every child has a laptop.
“They have Chromebooks that they are assigned to, but they don’t go home,” Phillips said.
At the middle and high school level, students take their school-issued Chromebooks home.
At Lucama, only third, fourth and fifth graders have a 1:1 ratio of laptops to students. That varies between elementary schools.
“In my classroom, it is a lot of skill-based practice,” Phillips said. “They do interactive games. They create slideshow presentations. We use Google Classroom. We have a class website that they go to to access different things. This year, end-of-grade tests are possibly going to be online, so we are going to have make a lot more, especially for reading instruction, on the computers where they read passages and do things like that.”
“So I would say, in my classroom, they are on their devices about half the day at different times,” Phillips said.
“The technology piece is important because of the world we live in now,” Spell said. “It is almost like we are getting kids ready for something that is not even here yet, which is difficult for us old-head educators.”
Spell said teachers are challenged to learn and understand to be able to catch up with the kids.
“Their world is based on this technology piece,” Spell said.
“A lot of times, too, with technology, the kids can teach us,” Phillips said. “They know a lot more than we do. There is a fine line with the technology piece as well. A computer can’t replace a good teacher. There has to be a balance. The technology allows them to work with something they are familiar with and produce products in a way to show that they understand a concept, but it can’t teach them.
“It is just a resource,” Spell said. “It will never take the place of a teacher. It shouldn’t just be the technology piece and no interaction with the teacher.”
At the same time, virtual reality goggles can’t replace field trips.
“I think that’s why we do the actual field trips other than the virtual ones,” Phillips said. “It is amazing just watching them at recess. Kids don’t know how to just play outside anymore. Even just that component is something that has changed over the years.”
Field trips keep kids interested.
“If we give them those experiences, then maybe they are more hands-on than they are with a piece of technology,” Phillips said. “That might be their avenue where they want to go. But if we don’t expose it to them, then all they are going to know is the technology.”
“Sometimes, I think our kids use so much technology that they don’t get the interaction that they need, and they don’t understand how to work with people,” Spell said. “They are going to have to do that, most of them, at some point, because everybody’s not going to get one of those computer jobs. They have to be able to interact in whatever job that they do get, and that is a part that the school more so is taking on now. We always did it. We always showed people how to act and how to treat people.”
Phillips said the interaction piece has to be more intentional now.
Children now may have a hard time sitting quietly without a LeapFrog tablet, Nintendo Switch or an iPad.
“Nowadays, there are so many kids with a screen in front of them at a restaurant,” Phillips said. “I know. I have a toddler, so I know completely. You have to do what you have to do. But they have to be trained and a lot of times; they don’t come to school knowing how to socialize or how to use what they know appropriately. You just have to channel the energy the right way.”
Phillips said more of her fourth graders already have cellphones.
By middle school, students are already texting voraciously. Text message lingo is a permanent part of their vocabulary.
Spell said students need to be reminded that they’re expected to write a proper paragraph or a proper sentence.
“They know what they are supposed to write, but they shift over sometimes, and they kind of forget when they are writing a proper paragraph,” Spell said.
For the texting generation, it’s acceptable to communicate face-to-face and simultaneously carry on a text conversation, which has led to concerns about children’s focus and attention span — and more particularly, what some consider rude behavior.
“You may be doing a videoconference with a company in Japan, and you need to be able to make that eye contact and know the cultural differences,” said Michelle Edwards, technology facilitator for Wilson County Schools. “Being able to have a conversation face-to-face with someone in class is still just as important today as it was when I was in school.”
“I think communication is changing. We need to be able to embrace that to the best that we can. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s not personable or effective,”said Will Edwards, a science teacher at Hunt High School.
Edwards said that no other generation has had “Google in the pocket.”
“It’s just a different approach. That’s what our kids are getting used to. That’s the direction that it’s heading, and I don’t see that train slowing down. So, I think we, as older generations, need to be able to adapt to that change.”