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10 ways computers are changing public schools

Example: Kyle Peck, co-director of Penn State University’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning, said many teachers assign students prepared lectures from online sources such as Khan Academy for homework. During class, the teacher’s role changes from information source to more of a guide who leads discussions about how to help students understand and apply lessons.

Increased attention

What changes: Teachers can keep students interested by giving them tasks to complete on their computers that follow along with the lesson. Instead of just taking notes, students may be asked to answer questions, contribute research or work out a problem.

Example: Kyle Peck of Penn State questions students during his lectures. Instead of one student raising his or her hand while everyone else listens, each student can take a shot at answering.

“Even if you’re doing the old lecture thing, present something and have people ask questions, you can use it to strengthen participation,” he said.

Work together

What changes: Students working in groups is nothing new. But with computers, they’re able to all work on a single document at once, share ideas and research and even take the group work home with them.
Example: Jordan Kemp, a Kutztown High School senior, and his classmates often work on group projects from their separate homes. They’ll use video chats and group documents that they can edit at the same time.

“You can see what everybody’s doing,” Kemp said. “It’s the same as doing homework really. We’re just collaborating.”

Instant feedback

What changes: Teachers can see what students are doing on their computers in class or, if they’re working in an online document, they can see their progress on homework. They can give feedback on the work while it’s in progress. So if a student’s starting out in the wrong direction, the teacher can set them on the right path before a lot of time is wasted doing it wrong.

Example: Alison Westgate, an English teacher at Kutztown, uses group documents to give students notes on their papers as they’re writing. Students don’t have to wait until she’s available after school or during the day to see whether they’re moving in the right direction.

“It creates immediate feedback,” Westgate said.

App for that

What changes: The tools students can use in class aren’t limited to what they bring with them when they have a computer at their desks. Students can download programs to help their studies as they need them.

Example: Calculus students at Kutztown use advanced graphing tools to plot complicated equations they’re solving in a visual way.

“If you can picture it than it’s a lot easier to understand,” said Ryan Noon, a senior in the class.

Progress check

What changes: Teachers can give students questions to answer from their computers or give them interactive assignments to complete in class or at home that provide instant feedback on which topics students understand and which need more attention.

With interactive tests and quizzes, they can chart whether students understand specific topics before moving on.

Example: Students in Brandywine math teacher Kristie Scheuer’s class do homework problems on their computers. Before they get to class, Scheuer can see how they fared and plan her lesson accordingly.

“I’ll pick three problems I saw they all had trouble with the night before and we can warm up with that,” she said.

Individualized learning

What changes: With teachers able to track students’ homework and test results instantly, they get a better sense of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. When they give students homework or classwork to do on their computers, they can customize the questions to give each student exactly what he or she needs to work on.

Example: If a student in Scheuer’s class is struggling with a particular math topic, she’ll add a few extra practice problems to his or her assignment.

“I can tailor to every single student if I want to,” she said.

Connect to the world

What changes: Students can contact people all over the world from their desks or from home. That means they can interact with other students who might be working on similar projects, speak with experts on a subject, and tune in to broadcast events or exchange cultures.

Example: Students in Kutztown’s highest-level German language class have one-on-one video chats with students in Germany. Students said that gives them a chance to learn dialects and phrases used in Germany, something they don’t get from classroom discussions.

“Just talking with our German teacher we don’t usually get the kind of experience we get talking to a real German person,” said Jordan Kemp, a senior in the class.

Show the class

What changes: Instead of having one student do something on the board while the rest of the class watches (or zones out), each student can perform the task on his or her computer. The teacher can then display students’ screens at the front of the room. That keeps students engaged and encourages them to do their best work because they know it could be shared.

“It’s amazing what happens when the student doesn’t have to turn in the work to the teacher but has to turn in the work to the world, how much better work you get from them,” said Chris Trickett, Wilson School District’s technology director.

Example: Kristie Scheuer, a Brandywine Middle School math teacher, will give the class a problem to solve on their computers. Then she’ll display a few students’ answers, without their names, on the front screen so the class can discuss them.

Immediate research

What changes: With each student having instant access to the Internet, looking up background related to a class topic or doing some research doesn’t require a special trip to the library. Students have the entire Internet and Web-based academic research tools at their fingertips.

“Having a one-to-one program means anytime you want it you have it,” said Bill Griscom, Wyomissing School District’s information technology director.

Example: Students in Alison Westgate’s literature classes at Kutztown use their laptops to look up literary references and allusions they come across during reading and discussions. They can also find sources to give the settings and topics they’re reading about context.

©2014 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Visit the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.) at readingeagle.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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