Teachers in Charlotte, N.C., huddled around iPads last week, hoping that by the time school starts
Aug. 27, they'll be half as good at making digital movies as the Washam
Elementary fifth-graders whose video report on Lewis and Clark they watched.
Digital learning could be the hottest trend in education for the coming school year. In September, almost 4,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students will get classroom iPads, while about 20 schools will invite students and teachers to use their own tablets, phones and e-readers.
The devices generate the buzz. But in schools around the Charlotte region, the real revolution is the way teachers are using technology to make lessons more creative, challenging, relevant and, yes, fun.
"It's just absolutely crazy what technology can do in the classroom," said Diane Adams, principal at Providence Spring Elementary in south Charlotte. Her students will be telling stories with iMovie and creating their own textbooks with online publishing.
"It is a very powerful learning strategy," Adams added, "but we don't do technology for the sake of technology."
CMS has slowed down and scaled back on its January announcement that all 159 schools would have Wi-Fi and a "Bring Your Own Technology" environment in August. As schools around the country are discovering, new devices and new freedoms bring a raft of new challenges.
On Wednesday, the CMS board will vote on a revised Internet access policy that allows students to bring their own devices, warns that there is no expectation of privacy, makes families responsible for any theft or damage, and promises that CMS will provide "digital citizenship education."
The district also is putting together a panel of faculty, parents and students to guide the BYOT rollout.
Meanwhile, CMS is charging ahead with what most experts say is the real key to success: helping teachers who didn't grow up with touch screens learn new ways to teach today's kids.
Sarah Kerman, a North Mecklenburg High junior who has blogged about the BYOT push, applauds that focus. One thing students know, she said, is that a good or bad lesson depends on the teacher, not the technology.
"If you're going to spend all this money," she said, "you need to make sure it's working."
Are textbooks obsolete?
As this past school year drew to a close, science teacher Kate Duda tested a new lesson for 2012-13 on her fifth-graders at Paw Creek Elementary.
Duda is helping CMS create technology-based lesson plans that will meet new, national "common core" standards, which debut in North Carolina this year. Her lesson on heredity used techniques ranging from old school to high-tech -- all at the same time.
"Variety is really the key," Duda explained. "I can't even remember the last time we've opened a textbook."
Duda introduced the big idea -- organisms are similar to their parents -- by asking students to study photos of human and animal families on their laptops and the classroom SMARTboard. Then students broke into small groups that rotated through four activities.
One group used sticky notes to post their own inherited traits, such as freckles, hair color and type of earlobes, on a bulletin board decorated with a "family tree."
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