When we talk about technology and innovation in school, perhaps the first thing we think of are big ticket items — laser systems, robotics, 3D printers — the new and shiny tools that both catch our eyes and spark the far reaches of our imaginations. But what about the tech that helps us organize and move through each day — the kind that teaches us how to learn and collaborate; to work smarter and make the most out of the time we have in school? With the help of Upper School Technology Coordinator Ms. Julia Maxey and Lower School Technology Specialist Ms. Vicki Dabrowka, Severn teachers use a wide variety of academic tech tools to enhance their teaching and put the onus of learning into our students' hands. As Ms. Maxey put it, “This is the kind of tech that every student will use in college regardless of their course of study. They need to learn how to pick up any tool and use it; this is how we work in the world today.”
What is Academic Tech?
Academic tech is technology that teachers and students use in the classroom to support everyday learning. This encompasses everything from presentation and video software to online collaboration and conferencing tools. This is the tech-stuff of our day-to-day lives, that which the professional world is largely built upon. Our responsibility is to teach our students how to evaluate technology for its usefulness, to choose the right tool for the right job and to use technology to communicate their ideas effectively. One powerful way that our teachers do just that is through academic tech.
Social Learning with Tech
The concept of working in teams or groups is not new to education, but the way that we accomplish that togetherness looks quite different than even thirty years ago. For example, Ms. Lise Charlier’s conversational French class is a blended class that takes place both online and in person. Ms. Charlier had to find a solution where students could speak to her and one another while not in the same physical space or even at the same time. Ms. Charlier introduced the video discussion app Flipgrid to her class with much success. Using the cloud-based app, Ms. Charlier provides a prompt for her students to respond to. Each student records their response using their phone or tablet and posts it to the class grid. Ms. Charlier can comment, respond, or even assign her students to listen to their peers’ videos and do the same. For the times when their classes don’t meet on campus, they still have rich opportunities to connect and work together.
Impactful Presentations for the Digital World
In the professional world, how you present information carries as much weight as what you are presenting. Competency in communicating ideas in the digital space is an essential skill for our students from the youngest grades to our graduating seniors. In our Lower School, Ms. Dabrowka works with teachers to find creative ways to use tech to help students show what they know. Our 5th-grade classes participate in Genius Hour every year where they pick a social issue that is important to them and use a variety of technology to advocate for the cause. Ms. Dabrowka works with the students to create websites using Google Sites, public service announcements with iMovie, and podcasts with Garageband. They learn not only how to use these tools, but that each tool helps to convey their message in a different way — each serves a nuanced purpose. They learn how to organize their ideas and engage the audience all with the anticipation of showing the finished products to their peers.
Tech with Purpose
These are just two examples of how our teachers are using technology of all types, for all purposes, in the classroom. It’s different for every class and every teacher and we see that as a good thing. Throughout the year both Ms. Maxey and Ms. Dabrowka keep current on new tools and trends that may work for our community. They work closely with teachers to help match technology with a particular class or lesson and support teachers who find new tools on their own. We offer professional development classes during the summer specifically for learning about academic tech and teachers present regularly at faculty meetings throughout the year to share what’s working for them.
As a result, our students use different tech in different classes, learning how to be flexible and adaptable. They learn that tech for tech’s sake has little value, but as a tool to enhance their learning and ability to connect with others, technology can play a vital role in preparing them for the future.
“When I’m researching and recommending an app or tool for a class, I try to focus on creation rather than consumption. I want our kids to learn that technology can serve as an amazing tool to create and try things they haven’t done before. We want them to understand the difference between using tools to create and interact rather than just to consume information.” — Ms. Vicki Dabrowka
Other tech tools you can find students using in Severn classrooms:
Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Earth
Prezi, Keynote, PowerPoint, Buncee
Teacher-created digital textbooks
Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom)