An LG LED television mounted on the wall greets those who set foot in Freeman Academy’s administration building, the classroom epicenter on a campus that has been evolving since the school was founded in 1900.
There’s a second, identical television on the school’s third floor.
The crystal clear screens list that day’s lunch menu, announcements, upcoming events and any other information relative to student life at Freeman Academy, all controlled daily via a computer that, like the television, is part of the school’s Internet infrastructure.
“It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door,” says FA junior William Janssen, who is one of technology coordinator Nicolle Hofer Timmerman’s “techie elves” who, along with students Jesse Balzer and Brennan Waltner, help with the ongoing migration of technology and traditional learning in the Freeman Academy environment.
With the advancement of computer technology, online resources, smart phones and tablets the past 10 years, figuring out where they have been, where they are and where they are going has been quite the process for schools across the board.
That Freeman Academy boasts two “smart” TVs — meaning they are capable of seamlessly connecting into Freeman Academy’s wireless network — says a lot about the school’s commitment to new technology.
That fact that Timmerman has “techie elves” is also a pretty good indication that an online presence is becoming a growing part of the school’s culture.
“We’ve been very proactive,” says Timmerman, who cites a number of ways Freeman Academy has infused technology into its educational environment, not only as a tool, but also as a way of life.
1. Teachers are encouraged to supplement their traditional teaching methods with online avenues; each is required to have his or her own Wikispaces page that allows them to post resources like notes, outlines and study guides for students to download and utilize in their studies.
In the same vein, some teachers are giving quizzes using a website called socrative.com, an interactive tool for educators that allow students to respond using smartphones, laptops and tablets.
2. Freeman Academy has, just this school year, re-written a policy that allows students to bring their own devices with them into the classroom, be it phones, tablets or laptops. While the policy clearly states such devices are not to be used for personal use like texting, they are permitted — and, in fact, welcomed — if used for educational purposes like researching or accessing a teacher’s Wikispaces page.
FA’s policy that now allows students to bring their phones and other devices into the classroom with them — and in fact, use them — goes against what many districts allow. And while Timmerman says there is always a risk of abuse, she believes the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
“We just have to be more proactive in monitoring it,” she says, noting the new policy requires a keener eye and further attention to what an individual student may be doing, “but that’s what you have to do. That’s what makes a good teacher.”
“I think it’s great,” Timmerman continues. “Students are comfortable with these devices and most of the time are using them for good reasons.”
Besides, she adds, for the current generation especially, having a device with online connectivity within reach at all times isn’t just part of the future, it’s part of the here and now.
“We want to have answers now — that’s how we survive,” says Timmerman. “Why take that away at school, when you’re supposed to be teaching students how to get along in the real world?”
3. In the 1-4 classroom, each of the 17 students has access to iPad minis that are used for much of their schoolwork. All in-class assignments are completed and turned in to teacher Jared Goede using the iPads and Dropbox, an online, cloud-based service used for storing and accessing documents regardless of what device is being used. In other words, students can save their files from their iPad to the Dropbox folder, and those files can then be accessed by Mr. Goede from whatever device he is using, and vice-versa.
“He’s up there in terms of what he’s doing,” says Timmerman. “He and his students are at a high level.”
The mini iPads were made available thanks to a private donation, and there’s money for more as needed so each student can have access.
And while they’re being used primarily in the 1-4 classroom, other teachers have access to them on an as-needed basis via a checkout system. Susan Schrag, for example, uses them in her fifth- and sixth-grade classroom every Wednesday morning.
Read this full story at freemancouriereedition.com.