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Taking it to the Top in Tech

Technological experiments and innovations have become the norm in many schools across the country. No where is this more evident at BFS than in the Lower School.

It’s a brave new world of immersion into technology across kindergarten through grade 4 classrooms and library. The arrival of 160 iPads for student use in the fall of 2014 brought technology closer to the points of learning, but innovative tech integration into academics has been taking place for many years in the lower school. Thanks to the mind-boggling boom in educational software, teachers have an array of choices with which to experiment. Beginning Sounds Sort, Smart Notebook, RAZ Kids and Sight Words Ninja are but a few of the apps popular with students. Kindergarten and first graders are using Bitsboard, a program that helps them practice sight words.

RAZ Kids, for example, is an app that allows teachers to assign books at the ‘just right’ reading level of each student, with the student interacting with the book via his/her own iPad. Tracy Chow, the division’s technology integrator elaborated: “The students hear a short book being read to them so they can model the fluency, get the chance to read and record the same book into the iPads so they hear their own fluency, and answer a set of reading comprehension questions.”  Teachers are involved with the student in this learning exercise every step of the way.

Lest you think the end result is a classroom full of silent children staring into isolated, glowing screens all day, Tracy points out that the technology is meant as a curricular enhancement, not a panacea. In another project, first graders used an iPad app called “Art Set” to design backdrops for a skit they created based on two books they read. “They took a look at the book they were performing, figured out the settings based on the context cues in the text, and drew their settings,” she said. “They uploaded their pictures to the first grade Google Drive and their teacher was able to project the settings on the Eno Board while the students performed their skits.”

LS George HeartFor National Poetry Month, second graders studying Japanese collaborative poems called rengas wrote their own poetry inspired by the four seasons and drew watercolors illustrating their work. Next, explained Tracy, “They used Adobe Voice to narrate their poems while an image of their watercolors was shown onscreen. The app stitches all of their narrations together, puts in music and creates a movie.” Along with the children’s artwork and poems, Tracy created a QR code that parents could scan on the bulletin board to link to the finished movies.

Tracy teaches coding in her weekly third and fourth grade technology classes using an app called Code Studio. “It helps students focus on concepts like sequencing, loops, and functions without being bogged down by syntax.”  More artistically inclined students use coding to draw and create computer graphics. Some of our students were also introduced to the Lego WeDo robotics kit. Using the Macbooks from the middle school, students explored the different parts in the WeDo kit (e.g., motors and sensors) and tested out their coding skills in the Lego WeDo programming environment.

Fourth grade teachers used Greek and Latin Root Words, an app that helps students increase their English vocabularies by teaching etymologies of words.  “It gives examples of words that use a particular root and how they are related,” said Tracy. “What the teachers really like about this app is that it’s computer adaptive. If students respond incorrectly to a question the same root will be reinforced with other examples until the student responds correctly. The level of the game also adapts to the student’s level of understanding.”

In Spanish Teacher Miriam Juarbe’s class, fourth graders are using Google Classroom, a suite of software tools designed especially for classroom collaboration, to write letters to their Spanish pen pals. The students use Skype to meet each other face to face, and they also had a Skype meeting with the son of Roberto Clemente, one of the people featured in their biography studies.

Tracy holds an MA from Columbia Teacher’s College and started at BFS as a 1st grade teacher “Before becoming a teacher I was in experimental psychology research,” she explained.  “My focus was in cognitive psychology. I was interested in how people processed information and how they reasoned with the information taken in, kind of like a computer.  I was especially interested in the interaction between conceptual understanding and language processing and then later on, how language processing affected people’s visualization of events.”

The arrival of the 3-D printers added a whole new dimension to the school’s tech adventures and explorations. Tracy dived right in with an Introduction to 3-D Printing unit for the third grade and a course called Introduction to Design Thinking and 3-D Printing for fourth grade. An added bonus is the fact that these courses mesh well with the geometry study units in the third and fourth grade math classes.

In seeking out 3-D projects for young children, Academic Technology Chair Liz Harnage and Tracy had learned about a cookie cutter project at another school and gave it a try. “We decided that third graders could work with their kindergarten buddies to create the cookie cutter design on paper,” Tracy said. “Then they used an iPad app called Ink Pad that allows them to free draw their designs using vector graphics. The students then uploaded their images to the Google drive and imported them into Tinker CAD, a 3-D design program, on the Chromebooks.”

From there, the students gave height to their 2-D shapes, bringing them into the third dimension. Designs were then printed on the MakerBot. The final products were used to cut and bake cookies in class during buddy time. There were many benefits to the project. Not only did it incorporate technology, engineering, art and math, it was also collaborative venture with younger students, into the process. It also brought a sense of wonder, possibility, and joy to the children.

NEXT: IT in the Middle School: Inspirational, Engaging, Authentic