Even before Dr. Howard Gardner put forth his revolutionary theory of multiple intelligences, teachers knew that to reach all of their students, they must present information in multiple formats. In the past, teachers gave lessons using chalkboards, filmstrips and overhead projectors — methods that had limited interactivity. Students too often were the passive recipients of information – information that was quickly forgotten. Recent technological advances have dramatically changed this. Teachers now have multiple ways of presenting content. Students can now demonstrate their learning in ways other than pencil-and-paper tests.
The students aren’t the only smart ones in the room
The fourth grade classroom of Vermont educator Sarah Winter doesn’t have a chalkboard or even a newer white board. Mrs. Winter’s lessons are taught with the aid of a Smartboard, an interactive whiteboard that responds to touch and can be operated with a remote from anywhere in the classroom, allowing a teacher to present materials while moving among her students. “You can incorporate games, video clips, audio and text with your lessons,” Winter explains, “It’s very motivating, and the different modes of presentation help students stay with the class.” An added benefit is that absent students no longer need to chase down a classmate for missed notes. All notes created on a Smartboard can be saved and emailed or printed.
Winter’s students present reports using Prezi-type software, a new generation of presentation software that expands on the concept of traditional slideshows, such as PowerPoint, by allowing users to zoom in and out of a presentation. A zoom in highlights specific points while a zoom out allows the audience to see the relationship among concepts. Students must actively select materials and decide how to manipulate them. They have more invested in their own learning than if they were writing a report in a teacher-specified form. Presentations may be stored on the internet, allowing students to collaborate on projects much as they will have to do in the world beyond school.
Computer labs have become internet-at-your-desk
Computer labs that sprung up in schools across the country during the ’90s have fallen out of use. With the affordability of laptops and the introduction of Wi-Fi internet access, students now stay in the classroom to complete research, write essays and prepare presentations. Assignments may be individualized to a student’s needs. For example, a math class may find each student working through different sets of problems, allowing those who master concepts to move on while those who need more practice are allowed to proceed at their own pace. The teacher is free to move among the students to provide support.
iPads are replacing textbooks
In 2011, Auburn School District in Maine handed out iPads to every kindergarten student. The young students used apps to learn phonics, build words and form and recognize letters. The move was not without controversy. Many questioned the cost ($200,000) and the efficacy of supplying 5-year-olds with high-tech gadgets. A year later, a district study showed a modest increase in the literacy scores of students in the program. Coachella Valley Unified School District in Southern California leased iPads for each of its students, nearly 20,000, in pre-K through high school. The district has a large population of students from low-income households, and the program gave many their only internet access.
Supporters of using tablets in the classroom say the interactive nature of the device gives students ownership of their own education and access to information well beyond what their teacher can provide. Teachers’ lessons become interactive — rather than one student at a time answering a question, every member of the class can submit an answer. Tablets have the potential to replace expensive textbooks (which can become out-of-date quickly), and they can function as graphing calculators, photo editors and video players, making them an all-in-one resource for learners.
Technology is moving into the classroom often faster than educators can figure out the best way to use it. The interactive nature of these new devises shifts classrooms from teacher-centered to learner-centered with a teacher taking on more of a facilitator role. It will take some time, trial and error, before the potential of new technologies is fully realized, but the classroom of the future is here now and students seem enthusiastic.
Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.