Technology changes ways students learn
Technology is changing the way students learn in the Diocese of Rochester's Catholic schools.
Gone are the days when teachers relied strictly on chalk and pencils, chalkboards and paper. While those tools remain staples of the school environment, many teachers now educate students with the help of such high-tech devices as electronic whiteboards and programmable robots.
Many teachers try to familiarize their students with as many new innovations as possible, said Arline Porcelli, educational-technology coordinator at Mother of Sorrows School in Greece.
"Technology is just so much a part of our elementary-school children's future," Porcelli said. "This is the world that they will be living in, and the more exposure that we can give them, the better prepared they will be."
Porcelli utilizes a variety of technological devices and computer programs in her classroom. Last year she helped a group of fourth-graders put together and broadcast short news updates using a computer program called Visual Communicator. Older students learned the basics of computer programming and put their knowledge of science concepts to use when they built programmable robots.
Porcelli's students also used microscopes connected to computers so their magnified images are displayed on the monitors, and digital cameras and scanners are regularly used in her classroom, she said. Porcelli's classroom also includes a SMART Board, which is a touch-sensitive electronic whiteboard.
The SMART Board is hooked to a computer, and whatever appears on the computer screen is projected onto the board, which is approximately 4 feet long and 4 feet wide. Instead of using a mouse or keyboard, Porcelli can manipulate images on the SMART Board by touching the board with her finger or one of the two magnetic pens that come with the board.
Porcelli often uses the SMART Board to teach her students how to navigate a new computer program. If necessary, they can come up to the electronic whiteboard for some practice before using the new program at their own workstations, she said.
Teachers at St. Lawrence School in Greece like using the SMART Board because of the device's flexibility, said Joseph Holleran, principal and sixth-grade science teacher. Holleran often uses the SMART Board to display videos and pictures from the NASA Web site.
"Instead of having the kids trying to crowd around a little computer screen, this is 4 feet by 4 feet, so they can all see," Holleran said.
The SMART Board allows him to pause videos, make notations or comments on the board with the magnetic pens, and then resume the videos. Notes written on the board during the video -- or anytime the board is used -- can be saved and printed later, he added.
Children respond well to the SMART Board's hands-on nature, noted Shannon Heller, principal of St. Michael School in Newark, where teachers take turns using the school's two SMART Boards to reinforce their lessons.
"It's so interactive. It's a fun tool, and the children are certainly engaged when they use it," Heller said.
At St. Michael, SMART Boards are sometimes used in conjunction with another new technology at the school -- a WeatherBug tracking station. The station -- which is located on the school's roof -- records the local weather conditions and transmits that data to the WeatherBug network, which provides weather information for television stations.
As part of the weather network, St. Michael's students and faculty have access to WeatherBug Achieve software, which allows students to view weather conditions around the globe and integrates math, science and geography with technology and real-world weather data
Penny Dessena, educational-technology coordinator at St. Ann School in Hornell, incorporates technology into the curriculum on a daily basis.
"My biggest goal is to coordinate what I'm doing in the computer lab with what they're doing in the classroom," Dessena said.
For example, if students are working on averages in math class, Dessena will teach them how to find and chart averages using Microsoft Excel. If they're working on a project about the water cycle, she'll help them research that topic online and use a software program to graphically organize their information, she said.
Kids today have grown up with computers, so they're very comfortable using them, noted Dessena.
Children also think of computers and technology as fun, added Julie Reed, educational-technology coordinator at St. Louis School in Pittsford, where teachers regularly utilize SMART Boards, digital cameras and small, portable computers made by AlphaSmarts. These computers are used only for word processing, save students' work automatically and are very sturdy.
"They can sit out at the playground and type their spelling words," Reed said. "The kids are so engaged, and it's technology."