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Mason students get ahead with technology



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, January 09, 2017 7:5PM

Mason Elementary School uses technology in the classroom to improve student achievement, as a tool to close academic gaps and to provide efficient evaluations.

When those students finish the fifth grade, they go to Milford Middle School, which also uses technology to prepare students for life and work far into the future.

“It’s things they’re going to do for the rest of their lives,” Mason Elementary fifth grade teacher Alexcina Leel said. “Our kids definitely go [to middle school] strong and it’s one less thing that they have to work on.”

Her school has been using Google software for education for a number of years, and she said a one-to-one student-to-tablet ratio was being implemented when she joined the school staff three years ago. Every student has either an iPad or Chromebook assigned to them for the year (iPad for younger students, Chomebook for older) and access to Google Drive, a web-based document-sharing platform.

The Milford School District, which educates middle and high school students who live in Mason, similarly became a Google environment this year, according to Milford Middle School Principal Anthony DeMarco. Students at all levels have varying degrees of access to Drive. In middle school, they can interact with each other and their teachers while at school. When they get to high school they can access it from home.

“Students are learning to be prepared for a career when they get out of school,” DeMarco said. “We all use computers on a daily basis.”

Milford, a much larger district than Mason, does not have one computer for every student. In Milford Middle School, there are seven carts of Chromebooks – two to each grade level and one for the unified arts programs – that can be requested by the day for teachers to use in class instruction. There are also two computer labs in the school.

When using computers at the school, students have a personal Google login and password, and use their accounts to communicate with others in their classes and groups.

“It fosters collaboration. Kids work together; it’s the way the world works now,” DeMarco said. “The nice thing is you can have more than one student on a document at the same time and the teachers can watch them work in real time.”

Mason students moving to Milford Middle School have a leg up on Google because they used it for years in elementary school. Leel said one rewarding moment is when former students complained to her about having to get reinstructed on using Drive. It meant they left her classroom ready.

“We’re always sharing ideas and this whole staff is really determined,” she said. “We’re lucky the residents and our school board are so supportive.”

Mason Elementary has a technology class and an initiative to improve student typing ability, but Leel said the Chromebooks are most valuable in everyday classroom instruction, with students on a computer for more than three hours per day.

They have special programs for reading, science and mathematics, not to mention the capability to watch timeless classics like “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “The Magic School Bus,” which she said they love.

“It really helps in closing those academic gaps,” she said. “Kids like video games and they don’t even realize they’re learning and mastering angles and polygons [in the math program].”

While online PDFs are phasing out expensive textbooks, the one thing Leel said she will never replace with a computer is chapter books: “I don’t think I’ll ever give that over to technology.”

In addition to classroom lessons and evaluation, she is using technology to connect students to the rest of the world. They watch CNN Student News to prompt discussion on current events, and stream videos from a fellow fifth grade class in Kenya.

“They were learning about pronouns, and my kids were like, ‘Wow, we’re learning about pronouns,’” she said. “And it’s great that they get to see those classrooms and what life is like for them.”

Leel’s classroom was once the Mason Elementary computer lab, and is outfitted with the school’s only smartboard, a digitally connected dry erase board that she uses for teaching math equations. About 80 percent of Milford Middle School classrooms have smartboards.

“Think of it as an overhead projector but with a hundred-times more capacity to do more things,” DeMarco said of the technology. “Teachers have been using it for years and it’s become intuitive, it’s just a part of their lesson plans.”

And for helping integrate all of its new technology, Milford Middle hired a technology integration specialist, now in her first year.

Milford plans on making technology an increasingly present part of its educational practice, which DeMarco said is because of its massive role in the professional lives for which students are being prepared: “We recognize that computers are an important part of our daily work environment.”