Minnehaha invests to become a school for the 21st century
AP Chemistry students start their homework, AP U.S. History students take notes on a lecture, and down the hall, Latin teacher Johanna Beck writes on the board. But the homework’s done online, the notes with an iPad, and the board Beck is writing on is an electromagnetic pen-based interactive whiteboard named after the mythological titan that brought fire to the human race called ‘the Promethean’.
Technology has changed the classroom for both teachers and students, and it’s being integrated into the classroom more and more. It will only take on a larger role in the years to come meaning that it will affect us all in a big way. What is the purpose of our technology at Minnehaha, and what advances are we moving towards in the years to come? Also important, is all this necessary?
Promethean boards have been around for a while, and can be found in most classrooms. Beck is a consistent user of hers; it’s on for most classes.
“It [makes] things easier, both for me and for students,” Beck said, adding that “it’s less cumbersome, I can involve the students more. They can come up to the board.”Beck also noted that it’s easier to store files on a computer than in a cabinet. She said it’s sped up the class because “there’s less ‘set the projector, focus the projector’ time that would happen every day.”
Erik Hadland assigns online homework to his AP Chemistry class for the benefits they will receive in the future.
“Online homework is becoming common at the college and university level and as an AP class we’re supposed to be reflecting what a college-level chemistry course would look like,” Hadland said. “Technology is a bigger and bigger part of learning in general, and so I think helping students figure out how to manage online homework or online resources is really a key part of getting them prepared for college.”
He also looks to increase the effort students put into homework.
“There are websites and online resources that just walk students through problems, so students have kind of become masters at figuring out how to get answers without doing any learning,” he said.
Hadland’s class uses Mastering Chemistry, which he appreciates for what it does.
“When a computer program will randomize numbers on students’ homework so they can’t copy, I think it forces them to figure out how to get the correct answers on their own or be more focused on the process of solving a problem rather that just the answer.” Hadland said.
He added that since a computer needs the exact answer students must use the correct process to get the correct answer labeled with the correct units.
“I like online homework because you can set up the program to give the student multiple tries,” Hadland said, “so even if they don’t get it the first time they still have opportunities to figure out how to do the problem and get the points for it.”
Online homework isn’t the only technological step that has appeared at Minnehaha in the last year — iPads were given to some teachers last year and have started to be used in some classes this year. All students in AP U.S. History were given iPads, including junior Joe Elmquist.
“It helps me take notes,” Elmquist said. “It helps me with my study habits for a lot of classes.”
Elmquist also notes that it saves him time.
“It organizes the information so I know what I need to learn and I can go over it faster that I have before,” he said. “It maximizes my time.”
Elmquist’s teacher, Matt Ridenour, also sees the benefit of iPads.
“Specific applications have been really helpful for note-taking, and not note-taking as we’ve seen it in the past, like writing on a notebook …but rather note-taking over the top of pictures or images that have significance from class, or over the top of my lecture,” Ridenour said. “For example, I’ll provide an electronic pdf of all of my lectures, and my students actually take notes on my lecture. They can also record my lecture while they’re taking notes over the top of the pdf so they have all of this information in one place.”
Sam Meyers, who is piloting the use of iPads along with Ridenour, using them in his Beginning Physics class, said that he wants to enlarge the use of iPads beyond the pilot program “if the students find it beneficial.”
Meyers added that “There are apps out there that allow you to do screencasting very easily, so if you’re at home and you have a sub the next day or you want to do a tutorial video, you can just upload your own lesson on the iPad, annotate over it and record your voice over it and post those on your Google site,” Meyers said. “Whenever I’m sick with a sub or something I try and record a lesson the night before so the students are still hearing me and seeing what they should be doing on the board as if I was still there, so it definitely helps cut down on productivity loss because the tools are so much easier and available for teachers to do that sort of thing.”
Right now, the school can’t hand out iPads for everyone, but it would also be a burden for some families if students were asked to bring their own — a policy referred to as ‘bring your own device’ that is being used at some schools.
“I look at the iPad almost as an electronic notebook,”said Merry Mattson, technology director at Minnehaha.“You bring your own notebook, your own calculator, there are tools that you bring to school yourself, mainly because it’s your personal learning tool.”
It becomes a dilemma, what does the school provide and what does the student provide?”
Ridenour, Meyers and Matson all agreed on one key issue: Can’t those iPads also be a distraction?
Ridenour pointed out that “students will find something to be distracted with when they want to be, so it could be writing on a desk, or things on a wall, or something on their shirt, it doesn’t matter.”
“My strategy has been to make sure that when the iPads are out, there’s a specific task that students are supposed to be doing, and that there’s an outcome that I need to see as a result of that task,” Ridenour said.
The story with iPads isn’t done. There are still a lot of options on the table as far as tablets go.
“It’s a real transition period right now,” Mattson said.
What happens this year depends on the pilot program, and both Ridenour and Meyers find it to be going well.
“In the end, it’s just a tool,” Ridenour said.
The technology investment at Minnehaha is expensive, Mattson explained, whether it’s for the “M.A. Secure” network — having two internet lines in case one goes down — the fiber line between the two campuses, the administrative network, the academic network, the internet filter, the intrusion detection system, laptops carts, the computer lab, and all that needs to be upgraded or repurchased. Still, the school is far from having a “paperless” operation, having spent more than $11,000 on printer paper already.
Beck appreciates teaching with technology but recognizes its limits.
“[Technology] makes it more interesting for the students,” Beck said. “I think it’s a useful tool, but I’ve had success in classrooms when I’ve only had a blackboard. Having the technology is a benefit, not a necessity.”