The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 3, 2012

Local educators talk teaching technology at summit

JOPLIN, Mo. — It was a conference where attendees were using their smartphones, tablet computers and laptops during the lectures and seminars.

But that was OK. Encouraged even.

More than 200 teachers and administrators from schools across the region gathered Friday at Missouri Southern State University for the first technology summit put on by the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence, an education service organization based in Webb City.

Topics featured in the event’s hourlong seminars were discussion-based, such as strategies to implement technology across schools, and instruction-based, such as effective usage of tablet computers in classrooms.

Mary Ann Gremling, a Southwest Center staff member, said the objective of the summit was to equip teachers with tools necessary to reach students in the age of technology. Educators must start teaching in different ways, she said, because students now learn in ways beyond paper, pencils and textbooks.

“We have a generation of students who are digital natives, and the classrooms have to be prepared,” she said. “We just saw a real big need to help our districts move into the 21st century classroom.”

Vincent Lyons of Leggett & Platt, one of the event sponsors, told attendees that tech-savvy students who are prepared for life beyond high school are critical to the future of business, industry and innovation.

“We need them to be aware of technology and bring it into the workforce,” he said. “The students you are working with today are going to be the Steve Jobs (of Apple) and Bill Gates (of Microsoft) of tomorrow, and it’s the things you are teaching them in the classroom today that are going to be the spark for them.”

Several of the event’s seminars focused on how to use technology in the classroom. Superintendents, principals and teachers offered insight into their own districts.

During one such seminar, Phil Cook, superintendent of Carl Junction schools, said implementing technology in schools involves more than simply adding interactive whiteboards to classrooms. It also involves training staff, providing access to computers, deciding which tools are effective — issues, he said, that in many cases are still being figured out.

The district has not placed the same focus on technology as it has on graduation rates and student performance, Cook said, but administrators recognize the potential importance of technology in reaching students to boost those areas. Last year, the district funded about $140,000 of technology projects for teachers after setting aside a dedicated amount for such projects in the annual budget, he said.

“It’s about getting the resources in our teachers’ hands and our students’ hands to help them grow,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Other seminars offered hands-on presentations of specific models already being used. William Chamberlain, a sixth-grade teacher at Noel Elementary School in McDonald County, led a session on student blogging. In his classes, students post regular entries on a classroom blog, and read and comment on other classroom blogs.

Chamberlain, who has used blogs in his classroom since 2007, acknowledged that social media, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs, can be intimidating to teachers who are unfamiliar with the platforms or uncomfortable with the immediacy they provide.

“We’re kind of scared of them,” he said. “The idea that students can talk to other people in real time is kind of scary for us.”

But one primary reward for students using social media as part of the curriculum is the possibility of expanding their worldview. When his students read blogs by other children and interact with them in the comments section, they begin to realize that the world extends beyond McDonald County, he said.

Chamberlain said blogging also encourages his students to learn to write for an audience beyond their parents, teachers and peers. The online format encourages community members to easily interact with the students, he said.

Garrett Clark, a science teacher at Monett High School, said he attended the conference to learn about new ways to engage his students.

By midday, Clark had attended two seminars, the first of which was a discussion of the relevance of technology to education. The other session was Chamberlain’s blogging seminar, and Clark said he would consider testing some of the presenter’s ideas in his biology classes.

“My students could read an article from (a science journal or magazine), respond to that article, and then get feedback from around the world,” he said. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Southwest Center

The Southwest Center for Educational Excellence is a consortium of more than 40 public school districts, private schools, colleges and universities in Southwest Missouri. One primary goal of the organization is to provide professional development opportunities for member schools.

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