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New technology at Burnet schools changing the way students learn

DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR

Phillip Malina, the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District instructional technologist, leads a R.J. Richey third-grade class through an interactive white-board quiz. The students use hand-held responders (about the size of a calculator) to answer questions, which provides the instructor with immediate feedback. This allows teachers to know how well students understand the material within seconds of a question or a quiz. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Phillip Malina, the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District instructional technologist, leads a R.J. Richey third-grade class through an interactive white-board quiz. The students use hand-held responders (about the size of a calculator) to answer questions, which provides the instructor with immediate feedback. This allows teachers to know how well students understand the material within seconds of a question or a quiz. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

BURNET — Phillip Malina’s excitement showed as the bar chart across the interactive white board burst with more than 90 percent of the third-graders getting the answer right on a brief quiz.

“All right!” Malina shouted. “That’s outstanding.”

At more than 6 feet 4 inches, Malina’s excitement doesn’t just come across as a tremor; it rattles across the room like a mega-earthquake. He’s not alone in his excitement. The third-graders send up a cheer with Malina.

“See how excited they are?” pointed out Adam Hermes, the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District director of technology. “It’s not just that they’re excited, but they’re engaged and really paying attention. All of them. How often does a teacher get the entire class engaged like this?”

Malina, the district’s instructional technologist, is giving a quiz over a lesson the kids just took on number place values (the ones, tens, hundreds, thousands places.) The lesson used a quick Brain Pop video played across the R.J. Richey classroom’s white board.

After the video, Malina gave a quiz. But instead of groans across the classroom, the kids perked up. The teachers then began handing out the responders, a calculator-size device that allows the kids to answer quiz questions and give the instructor immediate feedback on how many got the questions right and how quickly they answered.

Julie Malina, one of the R.J. Richey third-grade teachers, looked on as the quiz started. Each student held a responder, and at each question, they answered.

“This gives us immediate feedback,” she said. “We know exactly how many kids answered correctly and how many got it incorrect. If a high percentage of the class got it wrong, we can immediately go back over the lesson.”

If they were taking a quiz on paper, teachers would have to collect all the quizzes and grade them later in the day or even at home. By the time a teacher discovered a high percentage of the class missed a particular question, it would mean waiting until the next day to go over it again. Not exactly a great situation for learning.

Instead, as Phillip Malina administered the quiz on the interactive white board, the percent of students who answered the question correctly and incorrectly pops up on a bar graph. The teacher immediately knows if the majority of students understood the concept. If most didn’t, the teacher can quickly go back over the lesson.

“It’s good for us as teachers because it shows us where we may need to go a little deeper,” Julie Malina said.

Technology has definitely changed the way teachers teach and students learn. But, Hermes said, it’s not about the gadget.

“If you look back when we were in school, we were learning how to use the technology. Everybody took a computer class, and what you learned was how to actually use the computer,” he said. “Today, that’s not the case. We’ve moved well beyond it. Now, technology is a tool students use to learn, to go really deep into their studies.”

And he’s correct.

The computer, tablet and even smartphone are taking kids further into their learning.

Phillip Malina pointed out that in a fourth-grade class last year, the students used a network and devices to develop lesson plans for the class and presented lessons to their peers — something that would almost have been impossible at this level before the introduction of some key pieces of technology. But, he added, the exercise went further than presenting information.

“It gives the students ownership of their learning. The technology can help kids take control over their learning,” Malina said. “This also showed the kids how much work their teacher had to do preparing a lesson and teaching. They understand that, and they become better students.”

And it’s not just the responder gadgets at the elementary schools.

The district has purchased Chromebooks, small web-based laptops that high school students use in their classes. Through a Google network, complete with academic email accounts, the students tackle projects, get homework assignments (and turn them in) and even collaborate with each other.

Hermes explained that on Google Classroom and Google Docs, a teacher can email a lesson or homework directly to the students without all the paperwork. Then, the student can complete the homework and return it to the teacher via Google Classroom.

“And when the teacher grades it and gives a grade, the student finds out right away,” Hermes said.

So if the teacher is at home and grades a paper at 8:30 p.m. and puts the grade on the student’s work, the student gets a notification at that time as well. Plus, if the teacher makes notes or highlights parts of a student’s paper in Google Classroom, the student can see that information.

Last year, one of the Burnet High School teachers using Google Classroom went totally paperless.

“It’s not about the latest thing,” Hermes said. “We look for technology that we can use so the students can go deeper in learning.”

Now sometimes it is about learning how to use the computer or software like in Mark Edmondson’s computer-based design and production program. A bank of MacIntosh desktop computers line the classroom. Students are working on basic audio and video productions.

“But they build on everything they learn,” Edmondson explained. “When they graduate, one of the goals is they’ll have the skills to go into audio, video or design.”

Technology is part of the changing job market. Adapting it in the right manner and measure not only gets students interested, it also helps them become better, stronger learners.

Plus, Malina pointed out, the technology can not only help students be better learners but also give teachers the time to “do more teaching.”

Back in the R.J. Richey classroom, Julie Malina explained that after the quiz is wrapped up, the program creates a spreadsheet from the students’ answers. Later, she can go over the spreadsheet, determine which students missed which questions and where, if any, the students have weaknesses — right down to individual students.

“It’s not just a review, but we get immediate feedback, and as a teacher, that’s so important,” she said.

Hermes added that not only do teachers see how each student answered a question, but they also can see how quickly he or she answered it.

“So if a student answered it right away, and it was wrong, the teacher knows he or she was pretty certain about the answer,” he said. “The more a teacher knows about how their students are learning, the better and more effective they can be as teachers.”

All the data is great and useful, but as Julie Malina looked across the classroom, she noted all the students were riveted, looking forward to the next quiz question with responders grasped in their hands.

“I’d say 100 percent of them are engaged right now,” she said. “And you don’t get that very often. But with (the interactive white board and responders), we do.”

daniel@thepicayune.com

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