Use of technology in education continues to increase

Students work in the Makerspace section of the Beard Center for Innovation at Germantown Academy.

Whether it's online, in the classroom, a makerspace or outside the school building, technology is part of today's education.

"Essentially, most any kind of cutting-edge technology that's out there right now, we've either begun exploring or we are using," said Jessica Grisafi Killo, a Germantown Academy Lower School art teacher, Lower School Art Department coordinator, Makerspace/Tinkerlab coordinator and the school's PreK-12 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) coordinator. The school is located in Fort Washington, Montgomery County. 

When you walk through the school, you'll see students everywhere with iPads, Killo said. 

"Kids are constantly using them. They're using them for coding. They're using them for typing up reports. They're creating videos. Some kids are doing podcasts," she said.

Other uses include virtual reality or artificial reality, she said.

All the students in the Lower School use the Tinkerlab on a regular basis, she said. The technology and training is also integrated into other parts of the curriculum, she said, giving as an example one of her recent classes in which the students used Tinkerlab skills on an art project.

Diane Goldstein, a science teacher in GA's Upper School and co-leader of the Vex Robotics Team, recalled thinking when she went to college that a CNC machine was "miraculous."

Now, along with other more traditional hand tools, the Makerspace area of the four-year-old Beard Center for Innovation, where classes including an Honors Engineering course are held, has 3-D printers and a laser cutter. 

"I definitely am not a proponent of just saying, oh, 3-D printers are going to change the world or laser cutters are going to change the world, but if you have access to them and you're thinking just a little bit outside of the box, your projects are going to be a lot better," Goldstein said.

The makerspace gives students a chance to actually build things, instead of just designing things, she said.

The "ilab" (Innovation Lab), which accompanies the Makerspace, provides space for group or individual work to plan for the things being made in the Makerspace, Mary Fraser, director of the Middle School and Upper School libraries, said. Both the ilab and Makerspace are in the Roberts Family Library and Technology Center, which Fraser said forms a combined learning area.

"The three spaces were really designed to work together as you move through," she said.

"As you're moving through any type of designing, you're starting with some type of research, then you're working on a solution," Fraser said, "and then you're building and prototyping."

Building the item is the most exciting part, she said, but only one part of the process.

"I think the most interesting part of it, and what our kids are learning, is that all of the parts of this cycle are equally important," Fraser said.

Upper Darby School District in Delaware County currently has about 6,000 Chromebooks for its 12,000 students, Bob Hilinski, the district's director of technology, said.

"Each year, we're going to be adding over 2,000 Chromebooks to get to our one-to-one availability within the next three years," he said.

The district currently uses carts to make the computers available to all students, although not all the students can use the equipment at the same time, he said.

"Each classroom has dedicated wireless access points so that the teacher can take the whole cart of Chromebooks for the kids and get each kid on the network at any given time," Hilinski said.

There are also computer labs available for students to use after school, he said. 

One of the ways the technology is used is for benchmark assessment testing, Christine Kelley, the district's director of curriculum, said.

The assessments show teachers the areas a student is lacking or excelling in, she said.

"The students are using the Chromebooks to take the assessments," Kelley said. "The teacher then uses those results to enhance their instruction."

She said the district is looking at ways to add coding and computer science standards the state has not yet officially adopted but is encouraging districts to make available.

Other technology use includes projectors in classrooms that teachers can use to show lesson plans and for interactive lessons in the elementary grades, where students can use the technology for demonstrations to the class, Hilinski said.

"We are looking at ways to incorporate more technology with the younger students through our reading program so that the reading becomes visual for the students," Kelley said.

That could include things such as projections onto a SMART Board or reading online text, she said.

The one case in which the district gives students notebooks or Chromebooks to take home is for students in the district's cyberschool, Hilinski said.

The district's cyberschool is only for Upper Darby students, he said.

"We're trying to keep them in our district so they don't go to an outside cyber program, so we developed our own cyber program," Hilinski said. "The kids work online; they can contact the teacher and get help online 24/7."

The Chester County Intermediate Unit provides support for more than 40 school districts, most of which are in southeastern Pennsylvania, for the districts to operate online programs, said Mary Curley, the I.U.'s director of communications and Learning Solutions Division.

"What we do is we provide the content, the teachers, the actual technology if the district wants and also the help desk and support," she said.

School districts can choose from a menu of options between the entire package to only portions, she said.

Students enrolled in a cyber charter school are required to take all their courses online through that cyberschool, but that's not the case with CCIU's online programs, she said.

Students can enroll full time and many do, but it's not required, she said.

"In our program, you might have a student who only takes one course online, two courses online or all their courses online," Curley said.

Students could still take most of their classes in their school district but also take additional classes offered online, she said.

"It actually provides the student with more options and more choices," Curley said.

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