Teachers head back to school

August 10, 2011

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Technology — from cell phones to Twitter — offers schools creative, innovative ways to engage students in the classroom, a speaker told Henry County Schools’ teachers and staff on Tuesday.

Cathleen Richardson, an educational technology specialist for more than 15 years, was keynote speaker of the Henry County Schools convocation, a program held for teachers, staff and administrators before classes begin Aug. 17.

The program had the theme, “The Power of Teaching & Technology.”

Richardson, of Georgia, shared a sampling of her expertise in the field of eLearning and emerging technologies.

“Kids want to share everything, have global connections and be creators of content” rather than just users, she said. “If we teach the same way we taught yesterday, we are robbing our students of tomorrow,” Richardson said.

The 20th century education model included teaching Monday through Thursday, with a test on Friday, Richardson said. The 21st century model is much different and includes not only learning but also media skills, information and technology.

Sites such as Second Life (a free 3D virtual world that includes avatars or a computer-generated version of a person) and facebook (which allows for social networking) can be useful, she said.

Facebook also allows teachers to stay connected to their classes and “bond with students,” Richardson said. Teachers can create groups, and students can take advantage of thousands of free courses programmed into facebook, she said.

Other sites include Edmodo, a platform built for teachers and students to use in the classroom, and Twitter, which also allows teachers to stay connected and “grow as an educator” by subscribing to (following) various learning tools, Richardson said.

Skype, a service that allows video conferencing via the Internet, also can bring the world into the classroom. Google offers a number of tools that can be used in classrooms, including documents, spreadsheets, forms and even drawings, Richardson said.

She equated cell phones to individual slate chalkboards that students once used in classrooms, and texting to shorthand. Richardson said there also are apps (applications) for frog dissection and other learning tools.

“Mobile devices” such as cell phones or iPads “are cost effective,” Richardson said. “We have got to allow our students to use all of these different pieces of technology. We can’t block our students from a future that surely awaits them.”

Although there is the propensity for misuse, Richardson said that has always been the case.

“I passed notes” in class, she said. “But the teacher did not take my pen and paper.”

Acting Henry County Schools Superintendent David Martin said technology is important, but teachers also need to be able to interact with and understand students in classrooms, which he called the “softer side” of education.

He gave teachers and faculty four assignments for the upcoming year: “Be blind. See. Walk with students. Walk with each other.”

Blindness is necessary so as not to “see the problems from last year,” Martin said. Students deserve second, third or more chances, he added.

Martin showed a clip from the movie titled “Freedom Writers,” in which a new teacher, Erin Gruwell, finds that her class is a diverse group of teens, including juvenile delinquents, gang members and underprivileged students. Students shown in the clip are asked to toast to change, leaving bad behaviors and negative self-talk in the past.

In talking to one student, Gruwell says, “I can see who you are, and you are not failing,” Martin said, urging local educators to “see your students.”

In the third assignment, school administrators, accompanied by a piano, sang “Walk On” in a pre-recorded segment of the convocation.

Martin said walking with students is important. “They need to know you’re beside them,” he said.

His fourth assignment, similar to the third, was to “walk with each other.”

As the convocation began, Martin rode a scooter on stage. The scooter, he said, was symbolic “of the child that resides in all of us ... I believe each of us is a teacher, no matter what role we have in the school system or the community, and together, we make a tremendous team.”

Martin, a former Henry County School superintendent who left the system and has since moved back to the community, said he realized many truths returning here.

“Every child in Henry County can learn. Success is a vitamin that every child in Henry County deserves,” Martin said. “We care about kids and, believe it or not, they are more than a test score.”

The outcomes of those truths include the fact that all county schools are accredited, Martin said.

Henry County School Board Chairman Kathy Rogers and DeWitt House, assistant superintendent, helped present banners for each school that is accredited, including: Collinsville Primary, Carver Elementary, John Redd Smith and Rich Acres elementary, each for eight consecutive years; Bassett High, Campbell Court Elementary, Drewry Mason Elementary, Fieldale-Collinsville Middle and Magna Vista High, seven consecutive years each; Axton, Sanville and Mt. Olivet elementary schools, six consecutive years each; Laurel Park Middle School, four consecutive years.

Rogers and Debra Buchanan, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, also addressed the several hundred teachers and staff at Tuesday’s convocation. For the second year, the event was held at Martinsville High School to accommodate the large number of teachers, staff and administrators.

Rogers urged faculty, teachers, administrators and support staff to “work together to meet the needs of the 7,000 students” who will fill county classrooms on Aug. 17.

Buchanan said the new school year marks an exciting time. It “is another start of knowledge; knowledge to be shared.”


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