As schools look at new ways to improve education, in Thermopolis they are hoping that new technology and the access it brings to data bases, videos, and better access to the outside world will improve learning and teaching. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.
BOB BECK: This is Hot Springs County High School, home of the Bobcats. The school is not struggling with its overall performance, but it is trying to improve education through technology. The District technology Director is London Jenks. Jenks is a young faculty member who has taught high school science at the school for just over three years.
(Classroom noise) When you are in his classroom it doesn’t seem a lot different than other science classes you’ve attended. It includes gear for experiments and has the standard charts and tables that you’d find anywhere. But they all have laptops and I-pads. Jenks says he has a paperless classroom.
LONDON JENKS: They have no textbook to forget, you know they have no papers to leave at home, so it gives them that access whenever they need it. A majority of our students have I-phones or other smart phones, they also have school issued I-pads…so they have that access.
BECK: What Jenks means when he says they have access is that they have access to their assignments, their class materials, and even their teacher, no matter where they are. In Jenks classroom, the students often have to do additional research like a current project where they are using technology to count deer populations. Senior Ivy Paris says it helps her learn.
IVY PARIS: We kind of have to force ourselves to learn the stuff and do our assignments, like there is not really a lot of interaction from the teacher. There is the proper amount of interaction, but it’s not like he is standing up there telling us what to do the whole time. Which I think is very nice, because I think it is a more interactive learning and so you almost learn better doing that.
BECK: The students carry their technology with them and student Kaden Wood says that helps him.
KADEN WOOD: I feel like I’m learning more and I’m learning more at my own pace and I’m being more thoroughly engaged in the information instead of someone just talking at me. I’m more involved in what I’m doing.
BECK: Students say on-line interaction is a big part of learning at the school and they can ask questions when they aren’t in school. Jenks was trained by Google and is known as a Google certified teacher. His training makes lectures come alive. For example he recently had a lecture about tectonic plates
JENKS: Technology allows me to show my students where tectonic plates interact anywhere in the globe. We use Google earth and navigate around Google earth and we can see where those plates interact, we can pull up the same time and overlay earthquakes on that and recent earthquakes, we can overlay where volcanoes are and that’s at another level that you can’t just do with paper.
BECK: Jenks has even developed Apps for his class. Government and American History teacher Brenna Dooley has a technology certification as well. She has added technology components in her teaching and has noticed a difference.
BRENNA DOOLEY: They are way more attentive learning through videos and pictures that go along still with the content, but it’s more in line delivered in a different manner than direct instruction as I guess I was used to.
BECK: But there’s another side to all of this. The school and the district are also using technology to better track student performance and technology can alert them when a student needs what they call an intervention, or extra time with a teacher. Principal Travis Anderson says it will help educators make sure that students are meeting standards.
TRAVIS ANDERSON: Now the technology is available to outline what those standards are, to show how the students are progressing, analyze that data, and develop approaches that can best meet the learning needs of students and that’s where the technologies can meet the learning needs of students on a daily basis.
BECK: Jenks says he’s going to take data tracking a step further.
JENKS: We are actually working on a system in our district that will allow me to see which assignments Johnny is working on right now and when was the last time he worked on that assignment.
BECK: Teachers spend a lot of time on data collection and Jenks says if they can free up teachers time for them to concentrate on teaching and make their lessons more interesting that’s better for everyone. They haven’t done this long and so it’s premature to see if it’s working, but Jenks believes they are on the cutting edge. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.