Snazzy new tools enhance students’ learning experience

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By Bonnie Gordon

Teachers from around northern New Mexico have worked to make their classrooms technologically advanced and they shared their efforts on Nov. 6  at UNM-LA. 
It was a follow-up session to  the 21st Century Classroom workshop that was held July 19-22 at UNM-LA.
At the workshop, teach ers learned to use some of the latest techniques for using technology to engage their students. The training focused on the use of interactive whiteboards, Internet resources and student response devices that have been successfully incorporated into classrooms as well as discussions with experienced teachers who use technology to enhance their teaching methods.
Math teacher John Pawlak from Los Alamos High School has been using software provided by textbook companies to generate tests and quizzes that provide instant feedback to student and teacher.
The software can generate statistics that make it clear what percentage of the students are understanding the material and even track statistics for individual students. Pawlak  said he is especially excited about the interactive “clickers” he is using with his students.  Students are issued a clicker through which they respond to questions projected on an interactive screen.  Students can see what percentage of the class has responded and what percentage answered correctly.
“You can take kids who usually hide in the classroom and get them engaged this way,” Pawlak said. “Kids take it as a challenge. They love the clickers.” Pawlak said most of the teachers at his school are not taking full advantage of the available technology.  “Technology is a risk, but everything has risks. Everyone is focusing on the risks instead of on the advantages. The U.S. is trailing other countries in this area,” he said.
Other teachers in the group agreed. Several said administrators and school boards sometimes stand in the way of incorporating technology, especially the Internet into the classroom. “Administrators and parents are trusting teachers with their students for hours each week. They need to trust us to use technology appropriately in our classrooms,” Pawlak said.
Julia Agnew Bell teaches recreational reading, drama and creative arts at Los Alamos Middle School. Her students recently used a guided Web Quest to learn about drama around the world. Students used a Web site called questgarden.com to follow links set up by the instructor to learn about drama around the world and to see video clips of performances.
Students were only able to access links incorporated into the Web Quest, so no inappropriate material could be accessed.
In her drama class, Agnew Bell uses flip cameras to record her class so they can learn from their own performances. 
Math teacher Katie Lake and English teacher Nina Quintana of Bernalillo High School feel very strongly about incorporating technology into the classroom because in their district, many students do not have access to a computer at home. Both teachers use interactive “smart boards” that can capture material students and teachers have written for later use and for students who miss class on a particular day.
The notes are also useful because students can refer back to them when they are posted on their class Web sites.
Lake likes the idea of posting her notes and worksheets because students don’t have to take notes in class if they don’t want to. They can listen and absorb the material, then read the notes later without worrying about whether they are writing down what is really essential.
Hari Khalsa of Pojoaque Valley High School pointed out that using interactive technology builds a sense of community among the students. “The kids are really into supporting each other,” she said. Online classes have become a tool for students who need to catch up in a particular subject in her district as well as an aid for students with learning disabilities.
Chris Carson, who advises the Española School District on technology issues, said he finds technology in the classroom is often relegated to drill and practice only, rather than being used as a creative tool.
He and co-conference coordinator Dr. Carol Furchner of UNM-LA stressed that students are already deeply  immersed in modern technology and will need modern technological skills to advance in their future careers.