10/26/2011 4:17 PM

10/28/2011 2:19 PM

When a U.S. history teacher at Countryside Montessori School asked for a set of world maps at the beginning of the school year, Chuck Nusinov did him one better and purchased a 42-inch Apple LCD TV. Now, instead of having to store and then pull out individual maps, the teacher, using an iPad, can broadcast images of any map available on the Internet onto the big-screen TV.

“This kind of technology really creates a huge advantage in the classroom,” says Nusinov, head of school at Countryside Montessori (pre-K through 12th grade).

Just as technology has revolutionized the way we work and play, it is also changing the way educators teach children. This is especially true in Charlotte’s private schools, where cutting-edge tools and initiatives keep students engaged and active and provide a wealth of information that can be accessed with just the press of a button or click of a mouse.

Of course, new technology isn't limited to private schools. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Schools has introduced a number of high-tech initiatives in recent years, including interactive whiteboards and iPads, says CMS Chief Information Officer Scott Muri.

The school system is able to provide these innovative new devices through a combination of local, state and federal funds, often focusing on high-poverty schools.

These tools complement more common teaching devices such as laptop computers; Muri says there are at least two in every CMS classroom. It all adds up to a far more interactive educational experience for students, one that continues to evolve and expand.

"We're able to bring the world into the classroom now and create some unique, collaborative opportunities," says Muri. "Today kids have access to experts via web streaming and video conferencing and can work with other kids from around the world on projects and research topics. The classroom is a bigger place today because of technology. We're no longer limited by four walls."

Nusinov, who took over as head of school at Countryside Montessori this summer, says he’s taking advantage of new technological advances to provide his students with the most enriching educational experience possible. The school is wireless, and all middle and high school students have laptop computers, which enable them to communicate easily with teachers and receive instant feedback on their projects.

This year the school is going to install additional fiber-optic cables to provide better Internet access, according to Nusinov. There are also plans to implement new Microsoft educational software that will allow students to access programs like Excel and PowerPoint, which have become increasingly important in today’s job market. And with so many young kids already well versed in cutting-edge technology, the school is using input from student focus groups to help determine what new hardware and software products will be most beneficial in years to come. This is proving particularly useful in selecting new tablets, which are mobile, personal computers with touch-screen technology and virtual keyboards.

“One of the big advantages of private schools is we can really differentiate between kids who need access to full-blown keyboards and developmental software and a child who can flourish through using a more advanced tablet platform,” says Nusinov.

Even as Nusinov embraces all this new technology, he’s quick to point out that teachers are still the most important component of a child’s education. “Technology cannot replace the relationship between a student and a teacher. If you have a teacher who makes strong connections with students, that student will jump through hoops for that adult. He won’t do the same thing for a computer.”

Also rolling out new technology programs is Cannon School in Concord (junior-K through 12th grade). Joe Trojan, Upper School instructional technology coordinator, says that while all upperclassmen are issued new laptops, this year all ninth-graders were issued new tablet computers equipped with Microsoft OneNote.

This is a computer program that can gather and store the user’s notes and drawings and share them with other users over the Internet. This enables teachers to view the information and provide feedback and check assignments whenever and wherever they want.

“Instead of carrying around a bunch of three-ring binders, students can store all their notes and work on one tablet,” says Trojan. “We wanted to try the tablets with the ninth-graders to see how it goes, and the upperclassmen are definitely a little jealous. But I hope a year from now all our Upper School students will be using tablets. I think that’s the direction we’re headed.”

Leigh Northrup, Cannon’s Middle School director of academic technology, says other new technological enhancements at the school include Haiku. This is an online learning management system that’s similar to a social networking site, except that students can access assignments and course work and have online discussions.

Northrup says that last year, Middle School students starting using iPads, which has had a big impact in the classroom. “It’s opened up a lot of doors for teachers and streamlined content and engaged students in a way no textbook has the ability to do.”

For example, in biology class, students can use an iPad frog dissection application. Using a virtual scalpel and pins, students can actually slice open a digital frog and remove and study the organs.

This is done in conjunction with dissecting a real frog, Northrup says. “They complement each other,” he says. “Yes, you sacrifice the smell, and you don’t have a slimy, dead animal in front of you, but students are learning what the organs are supposed to look like, and they’re more experience and practiced when it comes to the real thing.”

Northrup says these kinds of advances are creating more engaging and interactive classrooms, and today the learning experience is more of a dialogue rather than a monologue.

“Kids aren’t just being force fed information,” he says. “They’re participating fully in their own education.”

At Trinity Episcopal School, teachers are taking advantage of online resources to enhance their lesson plans. Seventh-graders, for example, are presenting current events in a new way. “Instead of bringing in a news clipping,” says Grady Smith, social studies teacher, “they're organizing their thoughts on a web site (designed for this purpose) where they can include photos and links to other articles about their chosen current event.”

And according to Tachi Dellinger, who teaches third grade at Trinity, the Elmo Document Camera has dramatically changed their classroom experience: “We use the Elmo daily in our class! As we have taught the children about monarch migration, we have been able to share the pictures, videos, information on the Elmo for all to see. We used an iPad2 to film our caterpillar going into the chrysalis stage and posted it on our classroom website using youtube! Technology is an integrated part of our day in every subject area.”

Tony Fajardo, head of school at Northside Christian Academy (K-12), says he’s excited about the 18 new Mimio interactive whiteboards the school introduced this year in grades three through 12. Fajardo says the new whiteboards enable teachers to integrate audio and video into their lesson plans and also import lessons from applications such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Adobe Acrobat.

In conjunction with the new interactive whiteboards are touch pads students can use to answer questions from their desks. This allows teachers to track the progression of their classes and see instantly which students understand the material and which ones need more attention.

Fajardo says that next year he hopes to issue iPads and laptop computers to all his students. “This kind of technology is the future of education,” he says. “It makes the learning process more interesting. It’s no longer a one-way lesson plan in the classroom. Students are learning by doing.”

For a list of UCity private and charter schools, click here.

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