There was once a time when simply having computers in your school was enough to satisfy most parents’ desire for their children to be exposed to technology. As educators, we know this is not the purpose of technology in schools, but rather it is to be a tool with specific outcomes toward student achievement. The challenge for teachers has been and remains to figure out how best to optimize the technology which seems to be taking a larger share of our schools’ annual budgets each year.
St. Michael Lutheran School in Portage, Mich. began implementing a 1:1 technology program with its students during the 2007-2008 school year. That program has evolved through many phases, and currently utilizes Chromebooks as the main vehicle for technology learning. While Chromebooks are used across the curriculum in grades 1-8, they have become particularly effective in the middle school, where communication and collaboration are essential elements to student success. The Chromebooks are used in new and different ways that go beyond the formal instruction disseminated in computer class, and have become another tool that enhances daily learning and promotes practical application in the classroom.
St. Michael middle school teachers spend a great deal of time working together as a vertical team to create and sustain new ways to utilize technology for both communication and collaboration among themselves and the students. Communication is a vital piece to the student success puzzle that is often lacking with middle school students. Among the vertical team, the teachers are using Google Hangouts for live-time communication as a means to stay connected with each other throughout the school day. Teachers also provide an accurate and timely Google Calendar that is accessible to parents and students alike. The calendar lists homework assignments, test dates, and other pertinent information. Access to the school’s student information system is also available to both parents and students, allowing them to track current grades, missing assignments, and real-time progress.
This practice helps shift this responsibility from being solely on the shoulders of the teachers to the parents and students themselves. As a backup, teachers continue to send parents notifications via email regarding delinquent assignments and specific concerns they have about those students who may be struggling in various ways. The middle school newsletter also gets shared electronically in this fashion.
Successful learning requires collaboration among teachers, between teachers and students, and among the students themselves. Google Apps for Education help make the collaborative process more successful on a number of levels. Teachers share worksheets, homework assignments, classroom notes, and announcements with their students via their Google classroom websites. Students can complete their assignments, print, and turn them in on the due date without teachers ever having to spend time at the copy machine. Teachers also provide video tutorials and research links on their websites that can be accessed by students and parents 24/7. If a student has an extended absence, the teachers use Facetime to connect with the students and share classroom information and lesson materials. The daily classroom assignment board is photographed each day and made available on the Google classroom website for those students who were absent or failed to write down the assignments for the day. Collaboration among the students with research and written documents is achieved through Google Docs, which allows for peer editing and group input on collaborative projects. Teachers take advantage of this program and often make comments, edits, or suggestions on student work while in progress. Students also use this program to take their daily classroom notes.
While certainly not an exhaustive overview, these tools and practices assist in fostering communication, collective learning, and teamwork among staff and students. Coupled with this is an emphasis on learning the principles of digital citizenship with the goal that students will exhibit Christ-like character and are safe, respectful, and responsible users of technology. The ultimate outcome is for our students to use technology to improve achievement, manage their own learning, and become independent, responsible, and productive members of society for the advancement of God’s kingdom here on earth.