Greenbrier Middle School sixth-graders Connor Sartain and Zachary Lyons huddled over Lyons’ Kindle looking up definitions and origins of words during a vocabulary lesson.
Such a sight could be the new look of education in Columbia County.
As part of the Bring Your Own Technology program, students are allowed to use cell phones and other wireless devices in classrooms to enhance learning. Columbia County School System officials are just beginning to implement the program that allows children to have a world of information at their fingertips.
“It’s a tool, but we think it’s a great tool to engage kids,” Columbia County School System Associate Superintendent Dr. Jeff Carney said. “I really do think it’s going to be a game-changer.”
Carney said the system is in the process of installing wireless Internet infrastucture into all the high schools. Some middle schools, such as Greenbrier Middle, and elementary schools are opting to raise their own funds to get Wi-Fi up and running ahead of the school system’s timeline.
Carney said all schools will be wired and ready to access a secure school system server within two years.
In the digital age, Carney said, children learn differently and mobile technology, including cell phones and tablets, is a part of their daily lives. Educators need to use that technology as a tool to engage students and make teachers more efficient and effective.
“They are just so connected,” Carney said. “It just makes sense. The kids now are just wired different. They want that immediate engagement.”
Greenbrier Middle Principal Chip Fulmer said his school raised $17,000 for the Wi-Fi He visited schools that have the program fully implemented, and he definitely sees the advantages and challenges to the program.
“I’m trying to break our teachers in to just being comfortable with students with their cell phones out or their devices out in class,” Fulmer said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get our teachers to grasp the concept of letting go a little bit and letting instructional technology assist.
‘‘We don’t want it to take over, we just want it to be that tool.”
At Greenbrier Middle, teachers are using education apps to help with a variety of different subjects. They also are using Remind 101, a safe and closed online network that allows teachers to communicate with students and parents to remind them of upcoming assignments and tests and post homework assignments.
Fulmer hopes the system eventually will allow students access to teachers, experts and students from other schools.
Sixth-grade language arts teacher Shannon Brown has embraced the use of technology in her class. Instead of sending her students to the library for a dictionary to look up words during a vocabulary lesson, Brown lets them share devices and research them online.
“Right now, it makes our job more efficient,” Brown said. “Looking up things in a dictionary is not an efficient way to find the meaning of a word anymore, not in today’s world. They can just pull out their smart phones and use a dictionary app. For us, that’s a time-saver.”
Brown said she doesn’t worry about her students misusing the technology because they value the privilege enough that they are careful using their devices.
The technology enhances a teacher’s effectiveness and helps better teach students of different learning levels. A teacher can let advanced students watch a pre-recorded video lesson and another group learning from another teacher online, while the teacher works one-on-one with lower performing students.
“It’s just helping us be more efficient,” Brown said. “The kids are somewhat more engaged, but this is their future.
“It’s more instantaneous. Our curriculum, the new common core, we have so much to teach. And the more time we have for teaching or them working with each other is really going to change the way we teach ... in a good way. It’s just another tool they can use.”
Connor said he rarely used his cell phone for homework until he started using it in classes this year.
“I definitely use it a lot more at home now, Connor said, adding he uses it a lot in math and science classes.
He said he likes getting Remind 101 reminders and thinks getting the assignments on mobile devices will encourage more students to do their homework.
“If you forget to write down your homework, which I don’t usually do, but just in case you do, you get a text of it,” Connor said. “I think students will pay more attention and do their homework because a lot of kids are more interested in their phone than the work. I think if they got the work on their phone, then they would be more interested in doing it.”
Until the server is complete, which is expected before the end of the school year, students using mobile devices are using their own minutes. Fulmer said he’s looking at safety and equity issues. Students using devices will be closely monitored to ensure they aren’t misusing the technology, such as using social media sites or other unapproved activities.
“We’re going to have to full-time monitor this thing,” Fulmer said. “Not every child possesses an electronic device. We’re trying to stockpile resources to have stuff in our media center they can check out.”
Fulmer said he can’t wait for the next few years to see the program fully implemented.