The modern classroom presents a scene straight from a tech guru’s imaginings: In the corner, there’s a 3D printer, and a spherical robot rolls across a desk. A mobile Virtual Reality Lab immerses learners in a flower dissection. Kids program and control the action.
While the tools might be high-tech, there’s still something quite traditional happening in today’s classroom. Students practice reasoning, writing, and calculating, just with flashier tools.
Going Beyond the Basics
At St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School, laptop applications go beyond the more traditional uses: research, test-taking, and textbook storage. Dig deeper into the digital toolbox, and children explore storytelling with stop-animation videos or use 3D design and printing to understand mathematical equations. Even preschoolers learn the basics of coding as they create animated models for science lessons.
At both schools, students work on iPad Air or MacBook Air devices. “Using technology enhances the learning experience and provides greater student engagement with material,” says Angie Gould, director of digital academic services. “The wave of virtual reality in education is just starting, so I imagine by the end of the year, there will be all sorts of new apps and material available for viewing and manipulation.”
At Lausanne Collegiate School, teachers also incorporate many digital projects in academic work. For lessons in science and geometry, they asked students to design a planetarium. “There’s a buy-in from students,” observes Kwaku Aning, director of learning innovation and instructional design. “Tech tools give students a voice and leverage to drive their learning process.”
In 2007, teachers at St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School began taking students on virtual field trips. With long distance learning content provided by the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration, kids have toured the Royal Botanical Gardens in London and the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. At these sites, students had an opportunity to interact via Skype with horticulture and marine life experts.
High school students have observed open heart surgery and live cadaver autopsies. Sometimes students are even viewed as the experts: When the pandas arrived at the Memphis Zoo, one class developed content about the animals and hosted live video conferences to share their knowledge with students at other schools.
Early Lessons build knowledge
Visit a lower school class, and you’ll see kids programming Spheros robots using iPad apps. Middle-school students create movies and music videos and work collaboratively in LEGO Robotics projects. High school students can choose engineering classes as part of Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum. With early exposure, “More girls are interested in taking STEM electives,” Gould says. “The greatest challenge of having technology in the classroom is making sure that students still learn to think and problem-solve on their own — enter the STEM movement.”
The digital toolbox helps students forge a chain of connections across the curriculum. In one geometry lesson, Lausanne eighth-graders constructed floor plans and designed furniture, a lesson that linked interior design, architecture, and geometry. The math-based project formatted for a 3D printer also drew on creative skills. “They started with a concept and added their preference and voice to how geometry concepts were represented,” Aning says.
Lausanne’s lower school provides an Acquiring New Technology Skills class, which highlights academic concepts. “In upper school, students take all of these skills and put them in their academic toolbox to use in more individual capacities,” he adds.
Besides stimulating young minds, tech fluency can help kids gain more knowledge about career paths. Gould says that her schools partner with Tech 901, a local nonprofit, to promote computer science and tech-related careers.
Projects often blend high-tech with classic teamwork. While teaching 3D design at Lausanne, local artist and sculptor Jonathan Augur helped kids build a geodesic dome. The manual project had a digital outcome — the Memphis sky was projected into the space to form a planetarium for the study of space and constellations. Third-graders studying geometry helped build the dome, then older students helped them build smaller-scale models.
At noon, gazing up at the night sky, students benefited from digital magic while building organic thinking skills. And that’s just the beginning.
Each room at St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic is equipped with a projector and wireless connectivity/printing/sharing, and there are several optional components such as SMART boards, document cameras, and interactive pen/marker tools.