Terry Pike has been teaching since 1982, but thinks there has never been a more thrilling time than now to be involved with the way children are learning.
Canada's most popular mobile phone, by a large margin, is Apple's iPhone 4. You may see more than a few in a classroom near you. — The Associated Press
While some teachers may be intimidated by the onslaught of digital technology in the classroom, Pike is at the forefront of encouraging students, teachers and parents to embrace the tools that allow an incredibly different approach to education.
Pike is the school librarian at Humber Elementary School in Corner Brook, but she is also the school’s technology lead teacher. That means she goes beyond administering the traditional printed materials of the library and works with students and teachers to help use digital technology to learn the curriculum at the classroom level.
At Humber, there are interactive Smartboards and computers in every classroom. On top of that, said Pike, more than half the elementary students in her school have smartphones, with more than one-third of those phones having data plans connecting students to the web.
“Gone are the days when children are just passive consumers of media,” said Pike. “More and more, even at elementary levels, we are teaching children the skills and they are asking how to create their own content and how to put it up on You Tube and share it with their parents.”
Using technology this way allows each child to develop at their own pace, noted Pike, rather than having every child dragged along — or held back — as the entire class goes at the same clip.
Electronic gadgets in the classroom, particularly smartphones, pose a potential problem, though. Some students may find it irresistible to use them for things not relevant to their learning activities, like texting friends or aimlessly surfing the Internet.
Don Dunphy is itinerant for technology and skilled trades with the Western School District. His job includes working with teachers to help them deliver technical education and skilled trades at the intermediate and high school levels.
While messaging a classmate has now gone far beyond scribbling words on a crumpled piece of paper and tossing it to the recipient when the teacher’s back has turned, Dunphy said policing the classroom has not changed all that much.
“When I went to school, there were no PCs, but teachers still had to supervise to make sure you didn’t have that Sports Illustrated magazine on your desk,” he said. “It’s no different now. If students are online, the teacher has to be on their toes and be aware of what their students are doing.”
LITE up your life
One of the main initiatives Dunphy is currently involved with is called the LITE project, an acronym that stands for Learning in Technological Environments. The idea of it is to integrate laptop technology in a way that will impact student achievement at the junior high level in a positive way.
The LITE project was started three years ago at Stephenville Middle School and at the former Roncalli Central High School, now called French Shore Academy, in Port Saunders. Last year, it expanded to G.C. Rowe Junior High School in Corner Brook and this year will expand to three more, namely St. James Regional High School in Port aux Basques, Presentation Junior High School in Corner Brook and Labrador Straits Academy in L’anse au Loup.
The program involves having enough laptops for every student in the participating classes, which are mostly Grade 7 and 8 classes.
With surveys indicating that more than 80 per cent of students now have some sort of mobile device of their own — whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or laptop — that can be used for educational purposes, Dunphy encourages teachers to take advantage of their students having these resources in their hands.
The more students who bring their own devices, he said, the more laptops can be made available to students who don’t have their own gadgets.
“If you have a network with good stable wireless access and proper security in place, then there’s no reason why students couldn’t bring their own devices to school and use them when required for any number of activities,” said Dunphy. “There’s a plethora of examples of how you might use web resources (via mobile devices).”