Lake Norman Magazine

The world a mouse-click away

Countryside Montessori School teacher John Colbert uses an iPad and other technology in his classroom.
Countryside Montessori School teacher John Colbert uses an iPad and other technology in his classroom. JASON E. MICZEK

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 history 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, a preK – 12th grade school. 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 smaller scales make the technology easier to implement. Cutting-edge tools and initiatives are keeping students engaged and providing a wealth of information with just the press of a button or click of a mouse. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has also introduced a number of high-tech initiatives in recent years, including interactive whiteboards and iPads, said CMS chief information officer Scott Muri. The school system is able to provide these 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 said there are at least two in every CMS classroom. It all adds up to a far more interactive educational experience for students, and 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." 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, a 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. Other new technological enhancements at the school include Haiku, 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. Last year, Middle School students starting using iPads, which has had a big impact in the classroom. For example, in biology class, students can use an iPad frog dissection application. Using a virtual scalpel and pins, students can slice open a digital frog and remove and study the organs as a companion to a real-life dissection. 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. Countryside is wirelessly connected, and all middle and high school students have laptops, which enable them to easily communicate with teachers and receive instant feedback on different projects. This year the school is going to install additional fiber-optic cables to provide better internet access, Nusinov said. They will also 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, Nusinov said the school is including 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.” 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,” he says. “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.” Davidson Day School, which offers preschool through 12th grades, is also using new technology to change the way it educates students. Courtney Walker, the library/media specialist, says this school year Davidson Day incorporated in the seventh and eighth grades new tablet computers with the Android operating system, which has hundreds of useful educational applications. In the upper grades, all students have laptops, which enable them to easily access the internet and classroom lesson plans from anywhere on campus. But Davidson Day goes beyond simply outfitting students with these new tools. As part of its technology integration, the school has developed a program called Student Growth Plans. “It’s like a digital portfolio,” she says. At the beginning of the school year, students set goals within categories such as academics, character and honor, and service and compassion. Throughout the year students update their goals and reflect on what they’ve learned in a format similar to a blog. “While they’re using technology every day in the classroom with their core subjects, they’re also using their technical skills to update their growth plans. These are the kind of skills students will need later in college and when they enter the job market.” Dwayne Bowman, founder of Woodlawn School, a K-12 school in Davidson, says he’s also using technology to better prepare kids for the future. This year he plans on rolling out a pilot program that combines iPads with projectors, so teachers can move about the classroom while displaying the tablet’s digital images, videos, or classroom lessons onto a big screen. Bowman said this kind of new technology gives students instant access to the world, which in turn instills a sense of excitement about education, and helps them become lifelong learners. “If you have the right tools and access to the right information you can teach yourself anything. And those kind of skills will serve you your entire life,” he said. Bowman is uniquely qualified to discuss the value of technology. Prior to founding Davidson Day in 2002, he worked for 14 years in the technology and software industry, including stints at Apple and “It’s very exciting to see technology come to a place where it can really benefit education. But some people see technology as the silver bullet that’s the answer to everything. You still have to have great teachers and role models. Technology can add to that, but not replace it.”