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Education: Technology in the classroom changes teaching

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

If you could harness the excitement in Waccamaw Intermediate School’s cafeteria during the school district’s annual tech fair, it would keep the laptop computers that line the tables fully charged and then some. And no one was more enthusiastic about their project than Brian White.

“Everything that’s being done in this room can be done on my device,” he said.

The tech fair is a showcase for projects from kindergarten through high school that integrate hardware and software into the classroom and the curriculum. Over half the district’s teachers say their students use school laptop computers daily, according to a survey taken in the fall. Almost all say technology expands what is taught and increases student engagement with the material.

Hailey Hazzard researched the life of the German microbiologist Robert Koch and presented her findings at the tech fair in a series of drawings that she recorded on video as she drew. She shared a first-place award for innovation with Ashley Altman, a fellow sophomore in Mitchell Meyer’s world history class at Waccamaw High. Once the drawings would have been enough for a class project. “It’s cooler to see it all come together with music,” said Hazzard, whose project used the hip-hop tune “Antidote.”

“Now everything is media driven,” said White. “Most kids love media.” And that’s why he is excited about his project: Google Classroom. He teaches world history and world geography at Waccamaw High. His classroom is the only one in the district using the Google platform along with Chromebook computers and he said it’s changing the way they interact with the teacher and each other. “That’s what’s so awe inspiring,” White said.

Google’s Apps for Education let teachers set up their class materials and records to be accessed over the Internet on a remote Google Drive account. Assignments, lecture notes, video and other links are also stored there. Students access the materials through their own accounts. They get their assignments and complete them on the Google software. They can get immediate feedback from White. “When they don’t do an assignment, it tells them, ‘This assignment is late,’ ” he said.

Google Classroom lets him monitor progress and lets students ask questions without raising their hands and admitting to the rest of the class that they need help. They can also keep up with their work on their smartphones

The Google platform also lets students collaborate. “I shouldn’t be the be all and end all in that classroom,” White said. “You learn from doing. This is doing.”

Notebook computers that run Google’s Chrome operating system are an important part of that, White said. He raised $8,000 through businesses and the WAVE parent-teacher organization to buy the first batch of Chromebooks for his class. The school district initially gave him some tablets that run the Windows operating system. His students would show up for class early to get dibs on the Chromebooks, he said.

The Chromebooks cost about a third less than the average laptop. Because they run software via the Internet, they take less time to start up and have more interactivity, said Keith Brown, one of the district’s four technology coaches.

Hazzard had to shoot the video for her award-winning project at home. Altman’s project on Alexander Graham Bell, used social media to reframe his inventions. (“Call me gDog.”) But she had to use screen shots of the pages she created because the school network wouldn’t allow access to the originals. Both projects could have been done on Chromebooks in the classroom, White said.

Some science students at Georgetown Middle School also have Chromebooks. At the tech fair, they lobbied Superintendent Randy Dozier for more. “They really liked them,” he said.

The district’s current technology plan calls for more laptop computers and a rival platform from Microsoft, with all students getting e-mail addresses. Dozier said he favors a mix of devices and software over a single provider.

Whitney Cameron, a seventh-grade science teacher at Georgetown Middle, has 20 Chromebooks for her 28 students. “They were blown away by the fact that they could sit side by side and work on the same project,” she said. Since she doesn’t use Google Classroom, she placed the students where she could walk around them to monitor progress by looking over their shoulders. She said she would like to get the classroom platform.

White has been working on the Google Classroom project for three years. He won a first place in the educator category at the tech fair for his presentation. He is no stranger to awards. He also coaches the Waccamaw High girls cross country team and the girls track and field team, which both won state championships this year.

But White hopes the Google project leads to more than a trophy. “It’s something that can be revolutionary,” he said.

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