Technology today is being designed to help people do things better and faster, and local private schools are certainly taking notice. Through the use of technology, private school teachers are better able to customize the learning process for their students through in-depth analysis of learning habits and student collaboration.
“The schools that many of us in older generations went to have changed dramatically,” says Scott Kennedy, headmaster at Norfolk Collegiate. “And one of the things that I think schools need to do is accept a basic premise that information technology has really opened up the world for kids. There’s a lot of fear in the general population about giving technology access to students. Our premise is, the technology is never going to go away. For the rest of their lives this is going to be available to them. Our job as educators is to make sure kids understand responsible use of technology and can apply the technology to their learning.”
Judy Davis, director of curriculum and instruction at Norfolk Collegiate, also believes that technology is the way of the world we live in today. “We need to be educating students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet,” she says, “One of the biggest advantages of instructional technology is, it empowers students to be flexible enough to figure out how to make things work. I think that’s something that technology really enables in a way more traditional materials do not. For example, in our eighth-grade class, when they start getting ready to read Romeo and Juliet, they are able to use virtual reality goggles and go to Verona, to see the place they are about to read about. Virtual reality allows students to go places and see things they wouldn’t be able to do inside the traditional four walls of a classroom.”
At Ocean View Christian Academy in Norfolk, a new kind of fun is on the educational docket this school year. “All of our teachers went to a conference earlier this year, and they learned about incorporating game-based learning into their lessons,” says Head of School Lauren Slenker. “So, we’ll be integrating that into a very interactive classroom.”
They’re also adding a lot of online assessment tools to their curriculum this year, utilizing different online learning platforms such as Kahoot!, Flipgrid and Poll Everywhere. “Everything is now submitted online, and the students are able to see the results immediately,” she adds. “It’s really getting students excited and involved in their education.”
Another new element the school will be using this year involves online collaboration. For example, they have a Spanish teacher who is from Argentina who will be using Skype to connect with friends and family members back home so the students can practice speaking a different language. Using Flipgrid, they will also partner with different schools so students can have one-on-one conversations to talk to each other about books they’ve read, or it can connect entire classrooms for larger-scale discussions.
Christopher Academy in Portsmouth, a small, independent, nonsectarian school that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, has a one-to-one Chromebook ratio from kindergarten through fifth grade. “We really try hard to keep our traditional curriculum as new and as fresh as possible for students, and that’s where the technology comes in handy,” says Head of School Mary Ann Carey. “We’re still trying to get traditional, important curriculum skills to our students, but the kids that come through the door today certainly have technology skills and are digital natives. They need that piece, that component that’s important to them, in order to learn effectively.”
Nonetheless, Marcia Cabet, who is director of advancement but also teaches social studies and geography, uses “a ton” of technology for her second-grade students. She uses a geography game app called Seterra so students can learn the 50 States of America and their capitals. She uses another game app called Sporcle that times students as they list each state’s postal abbreviation. She uses Sheppard Software, Scoratica, videos from the Singing History Teachers and John Green's “Crash Course World History” on YouTube, and, of course, she’s still a big fan of School House Rock.
“Our third-graders definitely know all 50 States, the state capitals and the state postal abbreviations,” says Beth Lydon, director of advancement. “I challenge most adults to know the same and as quickly as they do by using all these tools. Collaboration skills are key for us, and through all of these different activities and learning experiences, they are collaborating quite a bit.”
A core piece of Norfolk Academy’s philosophy is “judicious experimentation with the new” when it comes to adding technology to their curriculum. “We really take the time to deliberate,” says Esther Diskin, director of communications. “And when we take the time to pursue something new, we know it’s going to be really beneficial for our students and that they’ll learn deeply from it.”
The most major innovation they’ve had over the last several years is their Engineering, Design and Innovations (EDI) program that was piloted in 2015 and continues today. However, this year will be the first time they will be teaching it to grade levels one through six. “All of the grades will have computer coding and robotics in age-appropriate formats, and each grade will complete about five projects a year,” says Diskin. “Each will tackle a different branch of engineering, so this is really the biggest, most innovative thing we’re doing.”
This summer and fall the school will also be upgrading technology in the classrooms with state-of-the-art laser projectors with interactive whiteboards. The teachers will be able to wirelessly connect to the projectors via a Windows device or MacBook, and up to 50 student devices can join in. “The teacher will then be the moderator through the software and can say, ‘Let’s see what John has on his screen’ and project it up on the screen for the whole class to see.”
In addition, teachers will be using a platform called Actively Learn, which is an electronic reader where a teacher can embed hyperlinks, graphics or videos within the text to enhance the learning experience. “This Actively Learn technology allows for the scaffolding that helps tailor teaching to individual students,” says Diskin. “They will be able to see how long a student spends doing the reading, how many words they looked up and it really makes the learning much more visible so the teachers can avoid one-size-fits-all instruction.”