TUPPER LAKE - The days of students lugging backpacks filled with textbooks and binders might soon come to an end.
North Country teachers and school administrators learned about how to plug into technology during last Friday's "Wired for Learning" seminar at The Wild Center nature museum.
About 125 people attended the event, which was co-sponsored by The Wild Center, Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES, AdkAction.org and Adirondack Community Trust.
David Wolff, broadband committee chair of AdkAction.org, introduces a four-person panel during Friday’s “Wired for Learning” seminar at The Wild Center. The panel included, from left, Laura Eldred, a teacher at Keene Central School and Olaf Carlson, a teacher at Lake Placid High School.
(Enterprise photo — Shaun Kittle)
Keynote speaker Alan November, an international leader in education technology, talked throughout the morning on ways students and educators can connect using modern technology. The event came at a time when schools across the country have begun rethinking how to teach students after New York put the new national Common Core standards into effect last school year.
"It's not just Common Core," November told the Enterprise. "There are places all around the world that are trying to figure out how to improve learning. Learning is the number-one investment, I think, to grow the economy, and lots of countries want to grow their economy. It's not so much about technology; it's about information."
November stressed that technology is just a vehicle for what schools are trying to achieve.Technology isn't always easy to come by in the wake of annual school budget cuts, though. That's why November said his talk focused on free applications, websites and information-gathering techniques educators can implement.
"The technology piece can be hard to deal with because there's a lot of hurdles to that," said Chris Morris, communications director with Adirondack Community Trust. "Funding, getting it into the classroom, that sort of thing. (The seminar is) a way to empower teachers to take advantage of what exists and plug them into what other teachers are doing. It builds a community that's not hampered geographically."
Tupper Lake School District Superintendent Seth McGowan attended the event and said his district has found ways to purchase computers.
"We have a lot of technology, we keep it refreshed, but we do it over a three-year purchasing cycle, so that each year we get state aid back on the previous year that allows us to refresh again," McGowan said. "We do an installment purchase over the course of three or four years through our BOCES so we get aid back on it. That aid coming back virtually pays for the expense itself on all of the principal payments."
McGowan said his district now has about one computer for every four students. He said technology is a necessary part of the curriculum.
"It would be like saying we're not going to provide the kids with reading anymore," McGowan said. "Technology is not a device; it's a skill."
After November led the audience through two workshops, David Wolff, broadband committee chair of AdkAction.org, introduced a four-person panel: Olaf Carlson, a teacher at Lake Placid High School; Laura Eldred, a teacher at Keene Central School; Peter Edwards, computer coordinator at Colton-Pierrepont School; and Megan Leger, a global studies teacher at Colton-Pierrepont School.
Edwards started the discussion by assuring everyone that "the main point in this is that technology isn't going away."
Panel members then discussed various challenges they faced when implementing a technology-based approach to education.
"My world is completely digital," Leger said. "Everything is Google Drive, Google oriented. You learn a new language. It's not, 'open your binders, please.' It's, 'open your laptops, and open the new document I sent to you, and make a copy of it.'"
Carlson said small steps are essential in getting students and teachers to use technology for education.
"What we're really trying to do is retrain them (the students) to use it for the educational purpose," Carlson said. "You're here to record a video; you're here to record a sound, not take pictures of your friends or do the photo booth. I specifically said to mine, 'If I see you out there taking pictures, I'm going to take points off.' I just try to keep them focused on where I want them to be."
Panel members said teachers can use a Google application called Teacher Dashboard which enables teachers to see what students are doing on their computers. If a student is spending more time on YouTube than on an assignment, the teacher can message the individual to get back on task. It also gives instructors the power to close tabs on their student's computers.
The panel agreed that getting some teachers up to speed with technology can be a challenge and added that students can help since they've grown up with the technology.
Eldred teaches home economics, health and computer applications for third- through twelfth-graders at Keene Central School. She said she hasn't used a textbook in four years.
"The school has about 160 students and about 100 computers," Eldred said. "We are trying to get one for every student."
The school provides an academic computer lab from 3 to 4 p.m. during the week, but that doesn't fit into every student's schedule.
"For students it's about talking and communicating, and telling your teachers that you're not able to get it done," Eldred said. "The teachers have to have understanding. I think we have to teach person-to-person communication skills again. They need to know that it's still important to have those skills."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.