Schools use technology tools to boost learning
Aden Rothmeyer, a sixth grader in the gifted program, prepares his NXT Mindstorm robot to perform a series of tasks at the Lego Lab Aug. 20.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (August 23, 2012) -- Schools across the country are embracing digital learning, and the teachers at Fort Rucker Elementary school are using technology as a tool to support 21st century learning, expand communication and enable students to think more critically.

Technology use in classrooms allows students to be actively thinking about information, according to Donna Brecher, gifted education class teacher.

"Technology motivates [children] to make choices and learn new skills more than in a typical teacher-led class," she said.

The elementary school has many learning tools for students to utilize during and after school hours.

"We have tons of learning tools available online from tutoring options to enrichment experiences to our own student-led broadcast studio. These learning tools equip them with the type of technology that the world uses. Everything they do in a computer lab is applicable to real life. They are learning skills that they are going to need," said Vicki Gilmer, Fort Rucker Elementary School principal.

Many of the programs students directly use while others are used to educate them and bring learning to them in new and unique ways.

"ProQuest is an online database that contains over 150,000 test resources and 25,000 primary sources that contain older media and materials, pro-vs.-con articles and culture grams written by natives that give insight into cultures. Children use it on multiple levels. The Thomson Gale database is also available for 21st century learning that offers a variety of reference and research resources," said Gilmer.

Staying connected is an important key for students to help each other in the many aspects of learning and the older elementary students are trusted with having digital communication accounts.

"Students have access to Gaggle.net, which is a safe online communication tool that promotes online learning and engages students," said Gilmer.

Many students, like Aden Rothmeyer, appreciate the chance to further their technological skills.

"I like Gaggle because it's kind of like email for the older kids. I use mine often. We can message other students and our teachers can email our homework to us on it. I can collaborate on group projects with it while I'm at home," said Rothmeyer.

Other programs used by the school present learning in a fun and interactive way.

BrainPOP, according to the principal, creates animated curricular content that engages students, supports educators and bolsters achievement in exciting ways.

"BrainPOP is an animated educational site for children. It is curriculum-based content that is launched online that features new ways to educate children. It has educational games that make learning fun. New topics are introduced through it and it can illustrate complex subjects to the children in a simple way," said Gilmer.

The elementary school also has a Lego robotics lab that promotes hands-on learning.

"Children build small to large robots. Some are more complicated than others," said Brecher. "It takes a lot of time because they have to have the pieces exactly right. Once it is complete they will program the robot to perform certain tasks."

Lego Robotics is used in the entire school, but the gifted program students are trained first and help train the other students.

"The children can build very basic models that are battery operated to quite complex machines that are programmed to do different functions such as lift objects and 'bite.' The children write a specific program for a specific robot," said Gilmer.

"These robots are an exceptional learning tool. The students have a lot of fun building them. Once they get the basics down they graduate up to the more complex robots. They have competitions and everything," she added.

Gilmer enjoys watching the students work and think critically with their robots.

"When you go into the lab and see the children working on a specific design and then programming them to perform certain functions, you can tell they are actively problem solving with all the little faces they make. You can see the gears in their heads just turning. The program is really stretching their brains," said Gilmer.

Students from every age use the lab, but some standout students are taking their robots to the next level.

"I love the Lego lab because it deals a lot with engineering and I want to be an engineer when I grow up. I've never made a robot before; the NXT Mindstorm is my first construction. We built them last year and now we get to program them to do stuff. My robot knows so many commands. I am very proud of it," said Rothmeyer.

The primary school also has its hands in the middle of new learning tools with its unique iPad program that has already seen results, though it is in its beginning stages.

"The pilot program for the iPads has been successful in two kindergarten classes. We are using them, but the school is waiting on approval from the Department of Defense Education Activity to implement the program full time," said Shaney Shaffer, educational technologist at the primary school.

Other helpful programs at the elementary school help students succeed in the field of reading.

"We have the Scholastic Reading Inventory and Reading Counts to help us read better," said Rothmeyer. "SRI is a program teachers use to place us into reading groups and Counts is our point system. The harder the book we read, the more points we get after we take a comprehension test on the computer."

"SRI is a reading assessment tool. The students set their own goals throughout the year to get to a certain level that they choose. They can use these two programs to see how much progress they have made. We don't have deadlines that they must meet; they read at their own pace," said Gilmer.

Page last updated Thu August 23rd, 2012 at 00:00