South Park Magazine

High-tech learning

Madeline Frosch, Lower School Physical Education Department Head, records a video of the third-grade class during their step workout, led by a computer-generated projection of the instructor.
Madeline Frosch, Lower School Physical Education Department Head, records a video of the third-grade class during their step workout, led by a computer-generated projection of the instructor. Dustin Peck

Just as technology has revolutionized the way we work and play, it has also changed the way educators teach children. Chalk on blackboards is giving way to iPads and Smart Boards. This is especially true in Charlotte’s private schools, where cutting-edge tools and initiatives keep students engaged and provide a wealth of information that can be accessed with just the press of a button or click of a mouse. And some of these high-tech advances are being used in ways you might not expect – like P.E. class. Charlotte Country Day School, for example, rolled out a new computer program this year in its Lower School (kindergarten through fourth grade) physical education department. Teachers are using iPads to measure and assess each student’s progress in areas such as the number of push-ups and sit-ups they can do, or the number of laps they can run around the track. Madeline Frosch, Country Day’s director of physical education for the Lower School, says the new program incorporates both a national fitness test and localized, grade-level standards. Frosch’s department uses the small, handheld tablet computers to record and update specific data for individual students. “The iPad allows us to carry all this information with us wherever we go,” says Frocsh. “We’re able to pull up each student’s data on site and see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Before we had to record the data on paper, go back and enter it on the computer and then download it. Now all that information gets entered automatically into our program.” Another cool feature: Teachers can use iPads to record video of students performing physical skills like throwing, catching and kicking. As the school year progresses, teachers can compare new videos with older footage to show students their progress. “We still have that one-on-one contact with the kids, but this kind of technology gives us specific, detailed information right at our fingertips. Plus there’s less paper we have to drag around.”The iPads are just one component of the school’s technological advances, says John Burke, Charlotte Country Day’s manager of information systems. A growing number of students are using wireless personal computers to take notes, do research and access online textbooks. This technology enables teachers to go from just delivering information to being more of a classroom facilitator, Burke says. “Students have nearly instant access to facts and information,” he says. “Class time can be now be spent having discussions and working on projects rather than just taking notes.”

A richer, multi-dimensional look

Country Day isn’t alone, of course. Charlotte Latin School has found a particularly useful device is the Smart Board, said Bill Zuehike, Charlotte Latin’s curriculum coordinator. The Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard that has touch-screen capabilities and can display a computer's video output. “It allows teachers and students to interact directly at the board from their computers,” Zuehike says. But more than just a fancy gadget, Smart Boards serve as an effective teaching aid, Zuehike said. For example, say a class is studying France. Smart Board technology allows students and teachers to access videos and other useful information instantly, providing a richer and multi-dimensional look at the subject. And while Zuehike estimates they’ve installed about 40 Smart Boards at Charlotte Latin over the summer, the school is being selective and pragmatic about what kind of technology it invests in. As Smart Boards became increasingly popular in recent years, a growing number of schools ordered them before the faculty actually knew how to use them. At Charlotte Latin, teachers are required to first explain how they would use the Smart Board in their class and then go through training before purchasing one. And while technology plays a vital role in education, Zuehike says, there are some limitations. For example, while many private schools have equipped all their students with laptop computers, Charlotte Latin has resisted. “We think there’s some good fundamental reasons to still use paper and pencil sometimes,” he says. “Your brain does not make the same connections when you’re sitting at the computer typing compared to when you’re in the process of writing and seeing it on paper.”

Being selective

Providence Day School is also selective about what kind of technology the school uses, says Matt Scully, the school’s director of technology. “Once you’ve made the investment, you’re forced to justify the expense. Which is why we’re doing pilot projects to make sure we have the rights tools.” Providence Day has recently rolled out a new iPad pilot program, and the devices are proving to be excellent teaching aids because they’re multi-faceted and can target different grade levels and students, Scully says. In kindergarten, for example, students play a cupcake-making game on the iPad. On the surface it may seem simple, but Scully says that through playing the game, kids learn important lessons about patterns and sequences as they follow the required steps to make the cupcakes. In upper grades, students can read digital textbooks on iPads. If they come across a word they’re not sure about, they can tap on it to get its definition. They can also access websites to find out details about a specific person or place they’re studying. “It can put things in context,” he says. Other new tools Providence Day has integrated into its classrooms include Starboards. Similar to a Smart Board, it’s an interactive whiteboard with LCD panels that allows teachers to download lessons. And the school also has about 16 mobile laptop carts that can be moved from classroom to classroom to help better illustrate and teach certain subjects. “We’re trying to put the best tools in the hands of different departments,” he says. And while all these tools have plenty of fancy bells and whistles, Scully says their ultimate purpose is to support the individual teachers. “Yes, we’re actively building digital bookbags, but the technology we’re investing in is about giving teachers tools to create innovate instructional practices that allows students to be active and engaged learners.” Of course new technology isn't limited to private schools, though its use is often more extensive there due to the schools’ smaller scales. 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 provides these devices through a combination of local, state and federal funds, often focusing on high-poverty schools. These devices complement more common teaching devices such as laptop computers – there are at least two of those in every CMS classroom, Muri says. 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.”

For a list of all local area private schools: click here