The proliferation of social media and technology has changed the way educators teach, how students learn and the way teachers and students communicate.
Educators at the three schools in Sleepy Eye agree technological advances have not only changed the look of how subjects are taught and allow the needs of a diverse student population to be met, but also brings with it the addition of new policies and rules regarding the use of technology in school.
While each school is taking technological leaps, the administration agrees that continuing to create balance and harmony between the digital "connected" age and face-to-face interactions and relationships is of the utmost importance.
This digital world calls for the evolution in teaching, learning and assessment. Combining inquiry and technology opens the door to powerful new teaching practices.
The Flipped Classroom
In June of 2012, the Sleepy Eye Public High School Math Department presented a new initiative to the District 84 School Board. The flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods, delivering instruction online outside of class time and moves homework into the classroom.
"Instead of teachers lecturing during class time, the bulk of the time is spent working on assignments in class," explained Jeanine Baker, High School Math Instructor. "A skilled student might zip through the video and only watch two minutes of it because they know what they are doing already and they don't need to watch the video. This method of teaching develops independent learners."
She went on to explain that instead of testing students for understanding the last five minutes of class each class period, understanding will be addressed at the beginning of each class period. Teaching this way, she added, helps bring students who are lagging behind to the level of the rest of the class.
Superintendent John Cselovszki said that this type of classroom has been used in larger districts at various grade levels beginning with grade five for several years, but due to the small size of the Sleepy Eye district, it has been decided to keep this program for grades 7-12.
For Sleepy Eye Public High School students, the flipped classroom involves watching lectures at home at their own pace. Concept engagement takes place in the classroom with the help of the instructor. Students work in pairs or small groups and do lessons on iPads provided for the math department that are kept in the room.
"In the past, with the lecture type teaching method, students might go home and do 20 problems wrong. Now we do those 20 problems together in class and get them done correctly," said Backer. "In addition, a lot of parents just aren't comfortable helping with math at home anymore, but now they can watch the lesson video at home with their children and maybe have some or a better understanding."
Page 2 of 3 - Interactive Curriculum
Just as the blackboard was the symbol and technology of the 18th century classroom, the interactive smartboard is the centerpiece of the 21st century digital classroom.
St. John's Principal Dan Rick said students now can retrieve far more information at a quicker rate and are exposed to a large amount of information. Because of this, he said, education also needs to embrace technology and grow to fit the needs of a "digital" student body.
Rick said the smart board is particularly helpful when teaching math, science and history.
Teachers can show math problems on the smart board and encourage students to manipulate the numbers, move the shapes and attempt the calculations.
Rick takes the same approach with science. Using Internet research and videos, for example, he can more effectively articulate science topics that aren't always easy to convey using traditional textbooks.
Currently in the 5-8th grade history class, Rick uses a complete U.S. history curriculum on the smartboard. The curriculum has integrated HistoryChannel.com with the curriculum so teachers are able to pull up any History Channel video that is appropriate to what was just studied.
Rick explained smartboards allow teachers to present subject matter in a more engaging way that also develops some of the technical skills students will eventually need to succeed in the high-tech workplace.
Rick concluded that the large, computerized screens—which allow Internet access, video and audio presentations, is an investment in modernizing classrooms to meet the needs of the digital generation
Cell phones, iPads and other technology is being integrated into the day-to-day learning experience of many students in schools across the nation and here in Sleepy Eye.
The methods in which students communicate and the tools to do so are readily available in many forms. Having technology in schools as instructional and eliminating the ability of students to communicate electronically with each other and the outside world, is virtually impossible. One of the bigger issues in schools everywhere is cell phone use during school hours.
"The philosophy we are taking is that we allow students to bring their cell phones if they handle them responsibly," St. Mary's High School Principal Jerry Neubauer said, noting that the policy allows students to use their phones before school, between classes, at 10 minute break, noon hour and after school.
"Once students walk into the classroom the phone is shut off," Neubauer added.
He explained that the way St. Mary's School combats this sometimes disruptive problem of cell phone use in schools is to have the students make their own policy.
The current policy says that if a teacher sees or hears a cell phone during class time the phone becomes the school's property for three days.
Page 3 of 3 - "It's worked. The kids do not argue about it be cause they made the rule," Neubauer said. "Is it perfect? No, we will always have some issues."
As schools have adapted to technological changes in the past, they are learning to adapt to the new technology of today. Technology evolves. Society evolves. And so has our education in regard to technology.