By ADRIENNE ANDERSONFebruary 1, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Jan. 30, 2013) -- The Department of Defense Education Activity's technology initiative is "21st century teaching and learning."
"When you look at the 21st century skills," said Lorri Blanchard, the educational technologist for the Georgia and Alabama school district, "employers want critical thinking skills, people who can think outside of the box, who don't need to be spoon fed everything. So a lot of 21st century teaching is problem-solving -- looking at a situation and coming up with ideas that are out of the box. And so we use technology to help us do that."
In the classroom
Melanie Keating, educational technologist at McBride Elementary School, said technology in the schools is not a gimmick or an add-on -- it is integrated into how the students learn.
"It's just how you can hook those students and get their little hands dirty," Keating said about technology in education. "They love it and they are good at it -- from pre-K on up."
During her more than 15 years of experience working as an educator, Keating said it's now more common for young children to know how to use a mouse and have good hand-eye coordination to use a computer.
The prevalence of technology in people's everyday lives makes it harder to get around without knowing how to use technology. However, technology can also facilitate collaboration and teamwork, such as with new SMART technology that is currently being used at all post schools. Because of the positive impact technology has on education, Blanchard said DoDEA likes to stay on the "cutting edge" of technology, which ties into its 21st century theme.
"SMART boards are the things that have probably changed teaching and learning the most because you are right there hands-on," Keating said. "Before, the teacher was kind of separated -- she was sitting at her computer ... but now it's the kids manipulating."
The new SMART tables, designed with pre-kindergarten to third-graders in mind, is an example of how technology is used to teach students to collaborate with each other through solving puzzles or playing educational games that require teamwork.
Schools also have SMART Response devices that allow teachers to quickly grasp the progress of students in his or her classroom.
"They can do formative assessments and check for learning on the fly," Blanchard said. "And the kids can be anonymous. Their results go up on the board for everybody to see but … there is no name associated with it so it creates a safe responding system."
The teacher can then decide, based on responses, whether or not to continue to move ahead or cover the same material again.
The use of technology also reaches outside of the classroom as well, through programs like robotics and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program.
These types of programs get students thinking outside of the box, Blanchard said.
With robotics, "They have to be able to write, communicate orally, they have to look at problem-solving and do some math to make the robots perform," she said.
Blanchard said the key is getting students to look beyond a search engine like Google and instead getting them to solve real-life problems creatively. Using skills learned in the classroom and applying them through real-world application is the goal.
Just recently, three schools from Fort Benning participated in a robotics competition at Starbase Robins in Warner Robins. The teams had to find a solution for a problem that senior citizens faced as they aged. White Elementary School took second-place overall in that competition.
The schools use software and online websites, such as Prezi, a cloud-based presentation software, Gizmo, an online website with math and science simulations, and Voice Thread, a tool that allows students to collaborate whether at school or at home. These tools allow parents to see what their children are learning and assist them with their projects.
Like the programs and tools used in the classroom, the software and websites also help students think on a larger, more conceptual scale and not only through rote learning, she said.
"Students are engaged in lessons if they're on some sort of technological device," Blanchard said.
For example, Blanchard said, research has shown that autistic children who use an iPad increase their engagement in the learning process, as well as help to equal the playing field with a child in a normal classroom.
"It can be a computer, it can be their smart phone -- you learn by touching -- tactile, by auditory, by visual and the computer meet all of those needs," she said. "Everyone, regardless of their cognitive ability -- whether they have special needs or are gifted -- they all have the ability to think. And with the integration of technology, if it's done appropriately, you can differentiate and meet all of those needs."