Technology Bits & Bytes

Blackboards and Other Innovations

By: Dr. Mark Carleton, Headmaster

Much of what occupies a Headmaster’s time these days (and, a parent’s time, for that matter) is the consideration of young people’s relationship with technology . . . or, ANY person’s relationship with technology, if we’re really being honest.  Questions related to how we choose to use, or not use, this “device” or that “application” can make a huge difference.  Unlike in the recent past, that difference doesn’t just relate to our individual productivity—whether in the workplace or the classroom—but it also relates to the impact it can have on our own happiness, our relationships to ourselves, and our connections to other people, communities, and institutions.

As I’ve been thinking about this, our Chief Technology Officer, David Robertson, shared the following article with me from Vanity FairThe Human Factor, by William Langewiesche.  In his piece, Langewiesche uses the crash of Air France Flight 447 as a case study, prompting us to think critically about how dependent we have become on technology.  In a striking and unexpected twist at the end, Langewiesche actually suggests that the answer to the problem raised by AF447 is not less technology, but more. 

Contrast this viewpoint with that of Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Otherwho presents a much more cynical and cautionary tale of life in a hyper-connected world.  Citing tragic and pervasive disadvantages that technology provides related to more control and convenience in our interpersonal relationships, Turkle argues that even though we may feel more connected than ever, we are becoming hollow men and women doomed to shallow relationships bereft of real intimacy.

Here is the rub . . . at least as I see it and captured in a fascinating observation from Langewiesche’s article: “It seems that we are locked into a spiral in which poor human performance begets automation, which worsens human performance, which begets increasing automation. The pattern is common to our time . . .  This same sentiment has been spoken in virtually every context one might imagine.  In fact, it was likely said in the educational field twenty years or so ago at the advent of a movement like “Chicago Math” and with technologies like the graphing calculator.  Proponents of both argued (and they argue still) that we should use available research and technology to liberate children from “doing math” so that they can “think math” instead.  Fundamentalists (and I use that term in its most literal sense) in Math Departments everywhere lamented each of these individually as the end of a student’s ability to accomplish either; two of many outcomes have been that all major textbook companies now offer some type of “conceptual approach” to mathematics, and college entrance exams now require graphing calculators.

Another example more intimate to teachers and pedagogy is this one: the “technological” advance of introducing blackboards in the United States in the early 1800’s took the concept of the “personal slate” and made it into a communal display.  The resultant shift in pedagogy transformed the teacher from individual mentor or, as we like to say in educational circles, from the “guide on the side” to the “sage on the stage.”  Two-hundred-plus years later, we are trying to reverse this trend . . . partly because of the revolutionary introduction of our generation's "personal slate"--something called an iPad.

Enter the key question on every Headmaster’s mind . . . and every parent’s mind, too: How do we use the many evolving tools around us in ways that promote “human performance” rather than worsen it, connecting to Langewiesche’s quote above?  That’s the real rub, isn't it?  We master it, or it masters us.  (And our track record in this isn’t great.) 

How do we promote “human performance” while avoiding “mastery by technology”?  In education, particularly, I think we first have to consider the context of that performance and then ask a few key essential questions:

  • What skills will be valuable in that context?
  • What skills that we have traditionally taught will NOT be valuable in that context? 
  • Does the creative and purposeful use of technology, in that context, afford teachers and students the opportunity to accomplish some set of learning goals that could not be attained in the absence of that technology?

We need to view technology and any of the other countless “innovations” emerging in the educational paradigm through a clear lens focused on learning—both student and adult learning, for that matter—rather than one focused on the fanfare surrounding the technology or innovations themselves.  This is the view that we try to promote at Presbyterian School.  After all, when was the last time you heard your child or a teacher rejoicing over the transformative impact of a pencil . . . or a textbook . . . or a blackboard?

The Incredible Cell Book Project

by Lynn Drake, 7th Grade Science Teacher
November 10, 2014 

This past month, seventh grade students learned about plant and animal cells in their life science class. Drawing inspiration from well-known analogies and stories, students were charged to create their own stories to explain cells, their organelles and functions.

Utilizing the many tools of the iPad including the camera, iMovie, Book Creator, and some well-loved drawing apps, students put together creative scientific books targeted for an audience of fifth grade and younger.  Students published some very creative and entertaining cell books including Snow White and the 11 OrganellesCellerella and Cell Pop.  These books will be presented to our 5th grade students to read in their science class.

The Book Creator app on the iPad allows students to integrate a variety of media including wriiten words, video content, illustrative content, digital hyperlinks, and voice recordings with ease.  Using the Book Creator app, students can get creative with the stories they tell and the visual images they incorporate.  The interaction and display of multi-media in each book is sure to draw in any reluctant reader!  

Here are a few of the books our students put together...

Posted by Mrs. Andrea Lawless in Benefits of the iPad, Integrated Learning Projects on Monday November 10, 2014 at 08:50AM
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iPads: Making a Long-Lasting Impact

by David Robertson, Chief Technology Officer
October, 30, 2014

At Presbyterian School, we value the iPad. On any given school day, there are literally hundreds of these devices on our campus. As soon as the iPad came out in 2010, we began experimenting with them and have increased our teacher and student use every year since. Our growth in use of the iPad comes because we've seen, year after year, significant learning opportunities which leave a long-lasting impact on our students. Consider these three opportunities:

  1. As students use their iPad at school, they are able to see the iPad as a tool for learning and not just a gaming device. The iPad and/or other mobile technology devices are showing up in the lives of teens and pre-teens. According to one survey, approximately 66% of teenagers own an iPad.  But in many schools iPad technology is shunned and students are only allowed to use the tablet for recreation at home. Unfortunately, this creates a perception among teens that the iPad is only useful for gaming and watching YouTube.

    At Presbyterian School, we want our students to see their iPad as a powerful tool for researching, creating (videos, papers, drawings), collaborating, and communicating. That's how our teachers use it, and that is how we ask our students to use their iPad at school. Of course the iPad is still a great "fun" device and students will learn that on their own. We want our students to embrace the iPad as both a tool and a toy.  

    Learning to channel the power of the iPad towards learning and productivity is a priceless tool Presbyterian School students gain and get to keep with them long after they graduate from the School.
  2. As students use their iPad at school, they join their teachers on a journey of discovery and become confident learners. The iPad is still an extremely new device. Five years ago there were no iPads anywhere in use. Now each year, Apple introduces software updates that make the iPad a more powerful device for research, creation, collaboration and communication. All of us, teachers and students alike, are still learning the best ways to use this tool. And oftentimes, it's the students who are able to quickly navigate and be the first one to offer a solution to a problem.

    It's a great moment when a teacher says to her students: "Well, I thought I could use this app, but it doesn't work the way I thought it would. Let me try something else . . ." That is a teacher modeling how to learn. And, if you want to see confidence in our students, watch their faces after they help a teacher with something on the iPad. 

    Our school's message of Confidence in every Child is not merely rhetoric.  As educators, we have a firm belief in each student's potential and that he/she can achieve his/her personal best with confidence.  At times, learning may look like the teacher leading the student, and at other times a student may rise up to take the lead.  This is what Confidence in every Child looks like. At Presbyterian School, students and teachers are on a learning journey together.  Our belief in each student's ability to learn and lead gives him/her the confidence to embrace new intiatives and opportunities after they leave the School.

  3. As students use their iPad at school, they learn how to multi-task and manage the many "distractions" of the device. iPads and smartphones can be distracting to pre-teens, teenagers, and adults alike. As an example, just look around you at your next office meeting. The temptation to text, email, surf the web, check social media, or play a game is not reserved solely for teenagers.  Adults face these very same temptations. We all have to learn how to focus on the here-and-now (which isn't always that interesting) while we hold in our hands powerful devices that can connect us with very interesting things. Like us, our students need to learn that sometimes it's okay to have iPads open, and sometimes they need to close them up and ignore them.

    Having an iPad at your disposal 24-7 and knowing when to use it is a learned skill and practice matters. We've already seen this at Presbyterian School.  In 2010 when our 8th grade students first got iPads to use in school, they could barely contain their excitement and some could hardly focus on their work. Today, four years later, our 8th grade students are significantly less distracted.  Our 8th grade students, having used the iPad now for all their middle school years, have practiced managing the use of their powerful device.

These are just three learning opportunities which present far-reaching consequences for our students.  There is no doubt, there are hundreds more learning opportunities which are specific to academic subjects that we have not even broached here.  To be certain, we remain convinced that giving students access to iPads, in ways appropriate to their ages, has tremendous educational benefit and positive life impact for our students.


Posted by Mrs. Andrea Lawless in Benefits of the iPad, Tech Applications for Education on Thursday October 30, 2014 at 12:23PM
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