Rural Hall students receive tablets as part of study project
By Kim Underwood Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 19 – When the fourth-graders in Rose Ann Throckmorton’s class at Rural Hall Elementary realized that every single one of them was getting a tablet computer to call his or her own for the school year, some jumped for joy. Some shouted with delight. More than one did both.
One girl became so excited that she stopped, put a hand to her chest and said, “I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t either,” said another hyperventilating student.
In the days leading up to the arrival of the tablets, Throckmorton had been telling the 28 students in her class to expect a surprise. Last Tuesday, Rural Hall’s tech facilitator Jodi Sparks and a team from the school system’s Technology Department delivered that surprise. On hand were Betty Weycker, the assistant superintendent for technology; Steven Anderson, the director of instructional technology; and Marty Creech, the technician who had been working with Throckmorton. Principal Diamond Cotton dropped by, too.
To build excitement leading up to the revelation, Throckmorton had students go on a little scavenger hunt in the classroom. At one stop, students discovered a colorful canvas pack for each of them. When the students learned that wasn’t the end of the hunt, one student who would have been satisfied with the canvas pack said, “This is not it? I thought that was it.”
Once the Samsung Galaxy Tab computers, which have 7-inch screens, were revealed, the children learned that the packs – a bonus gift from an unnamed benefactor - were for carrying their tablets home. The students also received a special cloth to keep the screens clean. (Photo: Cotton helps a student unwrap her new tablet.)
Once everyone had his or her tablet in hand, Throckmorton said, “Let’s play with some buttons!”
After the cheers subsided, she and her trusty assistants for the day got down to the business of helping the students learn the particulars of using the tablets. Throckmorton had taken the time to create a series of hand-drawn charts that she posted on the whiteboard so that she could point out specific features. In addition to making the charts, Throckmorton had invested a lot of time over the summer becoming comfortable with the tablet.
“She spent hours and hours to learn the device for this project,” Creech said. “You can tell she knows how to teach.”
The students in Throckmorton’s class received the computers as part of study project going on this year at six schools in the school system. After her students went home for the day, Throckmorton took a few minutes to talk about why she chose to participate in the program and what she hopes that she and the students will get out of it. One of her goals in teaching is to give them the tools they need to become leaders in life. Throckmorton, who is in her 16th year at Rural Hall and 20th year as a teacher, said that she has no children of her own and thinks of her students as her children. She keeps up with them over the years, and she recently attended the wedding of a woman she taught as a first-grader.
Although Throckmorton was already competent when it came to the basics of using technology, she said, she wasn’t what you might call technologically savvy. Knowing that the world her students are growing up in requires that they be comfortable with technology, she thought that participating in the project would serve everyone.
“I want them all to succeed,” said Throckmorton.
And, these days, mastering technology is essential to success, she said. She got a taste of what a valuable tool technology can be after she bought a Nook electronic reader to use with one of her students last year. The student was behind many of his classmates in reading, and, when some students saw the books he was reading, they teased him. She had heard about using a Nook to give students a way to read without others knowing what they are reading.
“I downloaded books for him to read,” Throckmorton said. “We sat in the back of the room and read books together.”
Whether it was the Nook or the attention or something else entirely, she doesn’t know. She does know that he made remarkable progress.
She liked seeing how excited the students had been earlier in the day as they began learning to use the tablets, she said. “The children – they are willing to learn. They are willing to try anything and they will soak it up.”
The project is being paid for with $96,000 in grant money from Race to the Top, a U.S. Department of Education program created to encourage innovation, and students at different schools will be using different kinds of devices. “We have several goals,” said Anderson. “We want to determine how student learning changes in a 1:1 environment. When students have access to the same information as the teacher, how does learning change? We also want to determine how teachers’ teaching changes in that environment. The pedagogy (how teachers teach) has to change when every student has a device.”
Corliss Brown, the school system’s Race to the Top grant program evaluator, also came to Ms. Throckmorton’s class.
“We are going to look at how students use them for learning,” Brown said. “What type of technology is the most useful?...How do you need to change your teaching when you have these devices? And how do you help students become 21st century learners?”
To evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches, people in the school system will look at student test data and talk to students, teachers and administrators about the ways in which they think using the devices changed the ways in which they learned. Once everyone has a sense of what works best, people in the Technology Department will develop training programs for teachers.
“We need to develop appropriate professional development to train teachers in these environments as we consider moving to Mobile Learning Communities where every student is able to bring their own device,” Anderson said.
The other teachers schools participating in the program:
Julie Howe, fifth-grade at Clemmons Elementary. (Dell laptops with 3G access)
Mike McDowell, sixth-grade at Jefferson Middle (10-inch Samsung Galaxy tablet)
Cathy Musci, foreign language at Kernersville Middle (Lenovo Mini laptop)
Chelsea Dvorak, biology at North Forsyth High (10-inch Samsung Galaxy tablet)
Kathryn Johnson, geometry at Mount Tabor, (Lenovo Mini laptop)