Benefits emerge as Ala. schools embrace technology
by Leah Cayson
March 18, 2014 12:00 AM | 1406 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students at Hartselle High School in Hartselle, Ala., use personal technology devices such as cellphones and tablets for social media and academics. Lissa Blagburn and Brantlee Wright use an iPhone as they work on a networked lesson in their Spanish class March 13. <br>The Associated Press
Students at Hartselle High School in Hartselle, Ala., use personal technology devices such as cellphones and tablets for social media and academics. Lissa Blagburn and Brantlee Wright use an iPhone as they work on a networked lesson in their Spanish class March 13.
The Associated Press
HARTSELLE, Ala. — Hartselle High School students walk with their heads down, smiling at their phone screens as they twiddle their thumbs to send a text message on their way to class.

The school allows students to use personal devices for educational purposes in class, and for personal use in between classes, during breaks and at lunch.

“When they were not allowed in school, we were chasing them all day,” Principal Jeff Hyche said.

K-12 educators say new technology is allowing teachers to become more engaged with students. All Hartselle High teachers have iPads and use academic apps in the classroom. Students can turn in assignments away from school through Google Drive or DropBox, including on snow days.

Houston Blackwood, a ninth-grade biology teacher, recently collected textbooks in classes because the majority of his lessons are digitally based. Students use apps such as Quizlet, Evernote and Socrative for notes and flashcards.

“You have to have a solid lesson plan,” Blackwood said. “The biggest problem is it appears that students are working, but they may not be.”

Blackwood said teachers can no longer stand in front of the class or sit behind a desk. They must walk around the classroom to make sure students are on task.

Oak Park Middle School Principal Ashley McIntyre became one of Decatur City Schools’ first to embrace new technology. McIntyre said students are allowed to bring personal devices to school, but there is teacher discretion in determining whether devices may be used in class that day or not.

Lee Edwards, an Oak Park eighth-grader and National Junior Honor Society president, said allowing technology in the classroom has made learning easier.

“We can take a picture of a page in a book, notes and share with students that are absent,” Edwards said.

He added having access to laptops makes school more fun compared to the crowded computer labs of the past. Technology is not limited to grade levels.

Priceville Elementary third- through fifth-grade students have an incentive to read more books. The school has 30 Kindles and 20 Kindle Fires that may be checked out like a book in the library. Students must read a certain number of books determined by each teacher to earn the right to check out a Kindle.

“Kids that don’t have a Kindle work hard to earn it,” librarian Kathy Craig said.

Craig said reading has increased among students since the school purchased the Kindles.

“They love the prestige of having their own Kindle for the day,” Craig said.

Heather Terry, computer lab aide and technology representative at Priceville Elementary, said students start learning computer skills in kindergarten. According to grade level, students learn typing skills, Microsoft Office and Word, Power Point and other skills.

“It varies from child to child. They’re proficient in most things,” Terry said. “The younger ones have trouble using a mouse because they’re used to touch screens at home.”

While many schools allow students to bring their own devices to school, some are not there yet.

Athens High does not allow students to bring cellphones to school. As long as educators don’t see or hear devices, the school tolerates them.

“We’re not foolish enough to think they don’t have them at school,” Athens High Principal Chris Bolen said.

Bolen said cellphones have become a necessity in society and he understands students need them for extracurricular activities and to call parents. But if a student’s phone is seen or heard in school, the policy is for the student to turn the cellphone in to the teacher. The teachers will then give it to an administrator. Students would receive a five-day suspension or could get their phone back at the end of the semester.

“We are looking at using devices for educational purposes,” Bolen said.

The principal said social media outside of school already brings problems such as disagreements, rumors and bullying. Bolen said the school is trying to teach students to use technology responsibly.

“Social media problems are much harder to investigate than traditional discipline problems,” Bolen said. “It used to be, ‘He said, she said.’ Now we don’t know who said what.”

Trevor Oakes, a Hartselle High freshman who got his first cellphone when he was 11, agrees. He said allowing devices at Hartselle this year makes learning more fun but can cause problems.

“With more information comes more abuse,” Oakes said. “Instead of using Evernote, there’s a chance someone is texting or being on other social media.”

Oakes said social media can become a place to exude anger and start rumors.

And other problems have developed. McIntyre said students could send pictures of tests to each other, though he said teachers can outsmart students’ attempts at cheating.

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