New technology helps classrooms expand

Thursday, May 3 2012

Classrooms, it turns out, are pretty hard to move and meeting the needs of geographically distant students can be tough. Recently, though, educators across the country are finding creative ways to expand the borders of their classrooms. More and more, part of that solution is video conferencing.

Take the elementary schools in Edgerton, Wisconsin, for example. Knowing that the students from separate elementary schools would soon be funnelled into the same middle school, teachers felt it would be beneficial to bring those students together in preparation - even though they were miles apart.

"It's just making those little connections, to bridge and form a bond between the two schools," third-grade teacher Carrie Brehm told the Edgerton Gazette.

By folding web conferencing into their curriculum, Edgerton students across town can share thoughts on books, view each other's projects and discuss writing techniques, according to the Gazette.

"We looked at what can we do to get them more in touch with those 21st-century skills and what can we do to bring classrooms together to collaborate on learning," Brehm said.

Another school district is using web conferencing to serve a different end.

In Kingsport, Tennessee, a new high-tech school planned to open next year is hoping to use the technology as a way of helping students who can't make it into school for the day, for such reasons as inclimate weather, according to the Kingsport Times-News.

"They're not going to be sledding," said Brenda Barnicki, the school's project manager, referring to the students who otherwise might have gotten a fun-filled snow day. "They're going to be working."
While the students might miss their leisure time, the new technology will help the school stay on schedule.

The school's use of video conferencing is part of a larger plan to imbue its classrooms with state-of-the-art technology. The students will likely all receive an iPad and there will be no physical library or textbooks - instead they will be replaced by digital versions, the Times-News reported. Which could be good news for the students' backs.

"A lot or all of the textbooks will be digital or online, so no 65-pound backpacks," Barnicki said.

These two schools, separated by thousands of miles, are both finding novel ways of incorporating technology. Their use of teleconferencing, especially, signals two new ways to extend the classroom past its physical walls.