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Using tech to enhance elearning: Brentwood Elementary School explains its use of technology to enhance learning.

One group of children is plugged into laptops, working on math problems. Another is navigating the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. Four more students are tapping iPad screens, completing a creative writing assignment.

It is a typical morning in Amber Marshall’s third-grade class at Brentwood Elementary Magnet School of Communication and Technology. And every student is using a piece of technology.

Local educators say technology in elementary classrooms not only enhances learning, but also is necessary for young pupils to learn in this day and age.

“We need to be very cognizant that instruction is changing,” Santa Rosa Schools Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said. “We have to teach students with the tools they are most comfortable with.”

Brentwood Elementary School third-graders Amalia Ball, left, and Christian Ford use technology to learn and re-enforce math skills. Brentwood Elementary, a magnet school, has heavily integrated technology into its teaching curriculum. / Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com

Wanda Wade, an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of West Florida, said technology has changed the face of education and the ability to deliver instruction.

“As teachers, we have to know how to integrate it into instruction,” Wade said.

She said it is crucial for teachers to be familiar with the technology they’re using in class.

“Integrating technology into your classroom is one way of taking a step into the 21st century,” Wade said. “You’re going to have to do it because it’s the way of the world.”

Wade said technology can be especially helpful in schools where students come from low-income families.

“Giving them technology (at school) helps level the playing field for them,” she said. “And they need teachers who know how to use it.”

Brentwood became a magnet school in 2001 and now serves 560 students from all over the district.

The school initially used a $1.9 million federal magnet grant to incorporate technology into teaching.

Technology and training is now paid for from school and district Title I funds.

Christine Baker, Brentwood’s technology coordinator, said electronic gadgets and the Internet make learning more fun for students.

“By the time they come to the third grade, this is what they’re used to,” she said. “Because of the stress and pressure of the FCAT, this really keeps them wanting to be here.”

Florida third-graders will take the reading and math portions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for the first time in the spring.

Technology as a tool
At Brentwood, Escambia County’s most tech-heavy school, Marshall’s classroom is decked out with iPads, laptops, iPod Nanos with video features, digital cameras, Smart Boards, document cameras and remote-controlled response systems for each student. In fact, all of the school’s classrooms are set up this way.

“With technology, it helps me pinpoint what these kids need to learn,” Marshall said. “It’s just one more tool that lets us be more efficient and effective. For a child who’s already mastered third-grade skills, this allows me to take it to the next level.”

But should technology replace the traditional pencil-and-paper way of learning? Not always, Marshall said.

“You choose the best tool for the job,” she said. “Sometimes a pencil is just fine.”

On Thursday, Ethan Pickett, 9, put the finishing touches on a video he was making on an iPad, using the Story Pals application, to go along with a story he’d just written on paper.

“It’s about a prince that goes into a castle, and the princess is stuck in the castle,” he said.

In about two minutes, Ethan re-created his story on the device with ease. He recorded himself speaking each of the characters’ parts as they moved around the screen.

Ethan said school is better with all of the technology he and his classmates use.

“It would be harder without it,” he said.

Baker said teachers must do extra work to learn about new devices before they start incorporating them into their instruction.

“It’s a constant learning curve for teachers,” she said. “It takes a lot of dedication for our teachers to do it, but they do.”

Heather Eaton, a third-grade teacher at C.A. Weis Elementary School, said while technology does not replace teachers, it helps with instruction.

“These are 21st century digital natives we’re teaching,” she said. “I need to speak their language. They need to be exposed to technology, not only to be successful in higher education but also in everyday life.”

Eaton said computer programs make constant assessment possible. Her students use the Successmaker program for reading. They read FCAT-level passages, answer questions and are assessed by the computer.

“They’re delivering passages at (the student’s) reading level and building them up,” she said. “As a teacher, I can go in and see exactly what type of questions they’re struggling with.”

Weis went from a D school in 2010 to an A school in 2011.

“Was technology an aid with that?” Eaton said. “Yes. We need all the help we can get.”

For Parents

Brentwood teachers encourage parents to work with their children on computers, tablets and other mobile devices at home to enhance what children are doing in school. All textbooks have corresponding materials online.

There also are options for families who do not have a computer at home.

“Some of our older equipment is available for checkout for families,” Baker said. “We’re hoping to help more of our tech-needy families.”

Kelly Roper of Pensacola said her fourth-grade daughter, Samantha, thrives off technology and that children today need exposure to it at school.

“It’ll benefit her educationally,” Roper said. “If she doesn’t have something electronic, she will drive you crazy. She can operate computers better than my husband.”

There are as many laptops as there are students in Samantha’s classroom at Brentwood, which Roper said is a good thing.

“The way kids think is not the same as when I was in school,” Roper said. “Their minds are going so much faster that they need multisensory (learning) in school.”

In Santa Rosa

One way Santa Rosa County schools utilize technology is the use of Computers on Wheels, mobile computer labs that consist of 30 laptops attached to a wireless device on a cart.

The COWs, as they’re called in the district, are typically used for assessment and instructional purposes, and can be rolled from classroom to classroom.

“It allows principals and teachers to move technology where it is most needed,” Superintendent Wyrosdick said. “There’s something exciting about watching a class of third-graders grab a laptop and begin to learn on their own.”

This article was originally posted at http://www.pnj.com/article/20111121/NEWS01/111210314/What-technology-s-place-classrooms-

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