KINGSPORT — When it comes to using technology in the classroom, some Sullivan South High School students are helping teach the teachers.
But aside from a new emphasis on using iPads, laptop computers, iPods and other such devices in class, students said one of the most striking things for them is that during lunch and between classes, students can use their smart phones and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
In the past, such activities were banned, meaning students were texting with their hands in their pockets or hoodies instead of using the devices in the open.
“We’re excited about the direction we’re going,” Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said. “Obviously, we need to emphasize technology for the students’ sake.”
As part of the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program at South this school year, the Colonial Heights school has embraced all Wi-Fi devices with a schoolwide Wi-Fi system and integration of the technology into many classes. The pilot program started in September, said Evelyn Rafalowski, supervisor of technology, athletics, transportation and safety.
“Educators aren’t just handed a textbook to teach a subject. They teach a whole lot of other things,” South Principal Greg Harvey said.
An iPad, iPod or smart phone is no more banned at South than a piece of paper and pencil or pen would be, although the school has filters on the Wi-Fi access and rules about phone ringers being off.
“We need to teach students how to use tools. You just don’t say ‘Here’s the tools. Have at them,’” Yennie said.
He said that includes what to do to stay out of trouble and online etiquette.
Putting technology to use
“We have whole (texting) conversations while watching a video,” 18-year-old senior Miranda Johnson said the morning of Nov. 18, the last day before the county system’s weeklong fall break.
She, other students, a teacher and administrators met in the school’s library to talk about BYOT, while Yennie was interview separately later in the day.
A chat room called Today’s Meet was put together by Josh Tate, the school’s technology coach and varsity girls basketball coach.
“A lot of our students are very open to help teachers with technology,” Tate said.
Many of the students helping the teachers are from his sociology class.
His class had a paperless week, and Tate said the devices get everybody involved.
“It’s become the surefire way to getting 100 percent participation,” Tate said.
Matthew Sheppard, 18 and a senior, said the iPads and other devices are excellent tools, but he still likes the look, feel and experience of books.
“I think the iPads are a great supplement for us as far as they go. But I like to turn the pages,” Sheppard said.
Tate said teachers are becoming less and less dependent on textbooks — electronic or hardbound — for curriculum, although some students learn more visually and some are more tactile. The Wi-Fi devices add more visual learning opportunities, Tate said.
For parents who might be worried some of those virtual conversations might be off-topic or inappropriate, Johnson said there is a failsafe.
“Coach Tate monitors it the whole time, and then he prints it off,” she said.
Johnson said the back-channel conversations and learning to use self-control are helping get students ready for college or the workplace, where technology is increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception.
As for the whole Wi-Fi system, it has the same Internet filters that desktop computers in the library and other student-accessible areas already have.
Facebook and other social network sites are off limits, as are image searches in most cases.
Students also agree not to access 3G or 4G phone signals for their Internet and are supposed to put their phones on vibrate or silent during the school day.
Johnson is among a group of 15 or 20 students who have agreed to help teachers out with the technology, as is Casey Richardson, 17 and a senior.
The range of activities available includes math games and Spanish translations, as well as applications and devices used by students in special education classes.
“We have class polls and chat rooms. It really helps the teachers out,” said Parker Zoolman, 17 and a junior.
Ross Miller, 15 and a sophomore, said he was among a group of about 10 students who volunteered to come in on their day off and help with a teacher in-service at South.
The South Web site has PowerPoint presentations from various classes available, so students can review them anytime anywhere they have Internet access — at home, at school or elsewhere.
Not all classes use the technology, and none use it all the time. Sometimes, phones and other devices are to be put in a blue square or cubby, the students and Tate said.
A potential issue on the other extreme, lack of a Wi-Fi signal, has not been a problem, according to Harvey and the students. Johnson said she’s used a wireless device in most every part of the building.
After school hours, Rafalowski said parents, grandparents and the public can access the Wi-Fi during sporting events, adding that one grandfather has been especially appreciative of the Wi-Fi.
“I constantly say I want to focus on the positive. The positive far outweighs the negative,” Rafalowski said.
A few minutes after the library interview in another part of the building, Joe Smith’s physics students were using iPads for a physics problem.
The students a few days before had gone to Rock Springs Elementary School and swung on the swing sets, videoing one another with the iPads.
That Friday in class, they were using those videos and a virtual overlay to make a graph of their swings.
Smith said the exercise looked at things such as the potential energy added when they swayed their bodies to go higher and stay in motion longer, as well as potential energy lost when they stayed still in the seat and let gravity have its way.
The graphs were not approximations or averages but actually based on the iPad videos in slow motion. So they were not smooth but had some bumps and variations showing real human movement.
Classes can use iPads on a 30-iPad cart that can be moved from room to room. The cart syncs the devices, controls them through a MacBook and charges them.
Back in the library, Tina Anjonrin-Ohu, 17 and a senior, said the technology for her is a bridge between home and school.
But she said one of the most useful aspects of the technology recently became apparent to her while tutoring some other students in math.
“It helps you to have a visual,” she said.
For instance, she said the concept of a fractal in math, a repeating pattern of numbers, is embodied in nature by the repeating patterns that occur in Bradford pear, maple and oak trees, both in leaves and branches.
“Learning anything, it’s much easier to be able to accept it if you apply it to a real-world atmosphere,” she said.
Every teacher and administrator in the county system has an iPad, and the school has the iPad carts that can serve a whole class at once.
Another school in the system, Holston Middle School, in January plans on doing a different sort of pilot.
It plans to have a one-to-one ratio of iPads to students. Many students already had iPads or have parents purchasing them through a special lease-to-own plan through the school system and Apple. Others will be provided a device for use in school.
Rafalowski said Sullivan East High School will be getting building-wide Wi-Fi next month, and bidding soon will start on providing Central with Wi-Fi.
The new Ketron Intermediate School, which is being renovated and expanded into a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school, will integrate technology.
Also, if the county and Kingsport systems win a grant, Sullivan North High School will be home to a STEM school jointly operated by the city and county systems with help from East Tennessee State University, Eastman Chemical Co. and others.
Yennie said bringing BYOT and the iPad pilots to schools systemwide would have an issue of available bandwidth and finances, although school officials had a heads-up on those issues when they visited and/or studied other schools with BYOT programs.
For those worried about economically disadvantaged students having ready access to the devices, Harvey said a survey last school year found about 98 percent of the school’s almost 1,000 students could bring a Wi-Fi device to school.
For those who can’t or don’t, Rafalowski said the school has the iPad carts, and friends and classmates can share devices.
“Most people have a phone now,” Johnson said, adding that she also was surprised at the proliferation of laptops. “I didn’t think that many people would bring their laptop in.”
With some notebooks and laptops available for around $200 on Black Friday and the proliferation of smart phones, Johnson and the other students predicted more students would bring more devices to school in January.
“I really didn’t think it would be this successful,” said Parker Zoolman, 17 and a junior.
In time, Yennie and Rafalowski said they hope that success can be replicated in other schools.comments powered by Disqus