Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ariz. educators embrace trend of technology in their curriculum

by Megan Gordon - Aug. 6, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Just two decades ago, many schools had only a few computers and taught lessons about typing. But Monday marked a drastic change for Arizona schools as one of the first K-5 technology academies opened its doors to students.

Scales Technology Academy in Tempe boasts a 1-1 ratio of students to laptop computers. The school's principal, David Diokno, said it is the first Arizona elementary school to do so. The Arizona Department of Education does not track such information.

"We saw that there was a need that was expressed by parents in our district," Diokno said. "We did a lot of research, and now we're opening a brand-new school with close to 600 students."

The academy is part of a growing trend within state districts to incorporate technology into classrooms. Almost every school district has some ban on tech toys that many say interfere with classroom discipline, such as cellphones and iPods. Recently, many of these districts are using some of the banned technology as a way to educate students in the classroom.

"A lot of our classrooms use Smart Boards," said Kristen Landry, Madison Elementary School District marketing and communication director. "The computer image is projected onto a screen. The students can go up to the screen and touch it. It's almost like the iPhone."

Smart Board is a product many districts around the Valley have integrated into classrooms. This interactive white board combines the uses of overheads, scanners, projectors and the Internet into one system. It can cost upwards of $5,000 to install one Smart Board.

"I truly believe Smart Boards can be used in every single classroom subject," said Diokno, whose school has the board in every class. "Almost any subject you can think of can be enhanced through the power of the interactive white board."

Other tech toys that districts use are Nintendo Wii for fitness and education games, podcasts and Internet resources such as YouTube and Google Earth. VoiceThread is a Web site that allows teachers to upload classroom videos for students to comment on.

"I can put a picture or a video of something that is going on in our class on (the site) and after, kids can plug a microphone into the computer and add comments or thoughts verbally," said John Enright, a second-grade teacher at Madison Rose Lane Elementary School in Phoenix. "It's kind of like graffiti or message board. It's one way that I can assess kids who have trouble learning in the written form."

With all the new technology, some parents are worried that it has become a "convenient curriculum."

"It's made things way too easy for assignments. It's too cosmetic and too easy," said Chandler resident David Harbster, a parent of two grown children. "To me, the computer is just a very big fancy filing cabinet. I think we need to slow this baby down. It's a two-dimensional space on a computer, but we live in a three-dimensional world."

Harbster said he agrees that technology is a good learning tool but believes that many schools are overusing it.

"It's almost become a video drug," he said. "I think it's becoming, "How much we can do?' rather than asking what the real benefits of this technology are. It's very seductive, and it's designed to be that way. And schools are trying to stay ahead as best they can, but it's too much."

Diokno said Scales Technology Academy stresses Tempe Elementary School District's curriculum standards but uses technology to enhance the learning process.

"We're not going to be only about technology. We're going to infuse it into the curriculum," he said. "Our kids are in the digital age. So now we are enhancing our curriculum through the infusion of technology. It's an added resource."

Many teachers and districts are at different stages of the implementation of technology in the classroom. Although it may be challenging and time-consuming to keep up with new technology uses, Madison teacher Enright said it is how children learn.

"I think the imagery we use with technology is really a more effective way to teach kids than simply telling them something," he said. "The bonus is a lot of those materials are interactive, which is a better model of teaching."

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