Personal Essay: Edtech and the Next Generation

The Leapfrog Leapster came out a little bit after my time, but I remember it as one of the first “gaming consoles” designed to be educational. Since then, there have many developments and efforts to come up with innovative ways to use technology in education. I do believe there is value in hard copy text books and writing, and that the technology cannot be the only form of learning. But when used as a supplement, it can have a dramatic effect on helping students to learn. Through this research paper, I want to explore what educational technologies have been introduced since my time as an elementary school student. I also want to see if there is any empirical evidence that supports the effectiveness in using technology in schools. I would assume that studies have been done using standardized test scores to compare students who use technology in the classroom to those have been taught in a traditional pencil and paper manner. Finally, I hope to learn if there are any major impending changes or technological advances coming to the school system in the next few years. Whether it be elementary or higher levels all the way to college, I expect to see continued development in the near future. In the next decade, I believe that technology in schools is going to be imperative in advancing students at a younger age and in preparing them for the new technological world that has begun to develop (or may already be here). I have a bit of experience in witnessing the power that tech can have for young students, and I think it will be a very interesting subject to look further into.

            Five years ago, my brother-in-law, Jon Hanover, came up with an idea to change the way the standard education system was structured. He wanted to flip the traditional classroom setting on its head and come up with a new way of teaching elementary school students and preparing them for higher education in a more comprehensive way. A year later, after countless presentations, dinners, and applications for grants, he opened Roots Elementary School in Denver, CO. It was a charter school located in the North Park Hill neighborhood which consists of one of the lowest socio-economic populations in the Denver Metro are and historically has test scores well below average. He wanted to create an opportunity for the kids growing up in a tough part of town to have access to high quality education, teaching, mentorship, and technology that their public counterparts in the area could not offer. His concept centered around the idea of introducing these young students to technology at a young age as a learning aid and using an open/rotating classroom so that the teachers are able to specialize more than in a traditional elementary school.

            I was still in high school when this idea was hatched, but followed along with him throughout the process of bringing his concept to life. After a few successful years, the school was undergoing rapid growth and decided to scale up the building as they progressively added more grade levels. During this period, I was in search of a summer internship and Jon asked if I wanted to help out. My main responsibility was assisting their financial director with all the ongoing changes. However, my internship overlapped with the school year for about a month and I had the opportunity to interact with the kids and observe first-hand the impact that technology was having on their learning. Each kid was assigned an Apple iPad to assist in classes throughout the day. The iPad would be used for things such as simple math games to help the students learning their addition and multiplication tables in a manner that was enjoyable and interactive. I would see the kids’ faces light up when they “got to the next level” and I could see the stark difference from my own experience in elementary school of simply filling out a big chart and practicing through monotonous repetition on a piece of paper. They also had the verbal ques linked with the reading applications, where it would help them sound out words and sentences and could be adjusted to match the pace that each individual kid was at. Each use of the iPad offered a new and interesting way to help the kids learn more effectively.  My experience at the school opened my eyes to the new wave of learning; technology in the classroom can be successful on a number of different levels. It is not only effective for enhancing the students learning, but was an actively enjoyable way of learning. They were ecstatic to come to class every day and advance with each “game.” The interactive nature of the technology seemed to an improvement from the traditional methods. This technology also gave the teachers the opportunity to be more successful. The different applications were easy to track progress for each individual student in the varying subjects. It allowed the teacher to understand who needed help in science and who needed extra practice with spelling in an accessible and accurate manner. In addition, with the assistance of the iPads to learn, they spend less time standing in front of the class lecturing and have more freedom to give individual instruction to those who require it. While all the kids are plugging away at their Math Invaders game, the teacher can sit with a student who may be further behind and help them find a way to understand. And finally, it familiarizes the kids with technology. In today’s world, technology continues to be ever more present throughout our daily lives. Everywhere we look, we see new tech designed to make our lives easier, and the sooner the next generation is exposed to it, the better prepared they will be as that presence continues to grow.

            The following summer after working at the school, I had another internship at a company called EdTec that helped charter schools in California manage their finances and plan for advancements to the school, many of which revolved around increased use of technology. It has become an important subject to me, and I plan to use this passion down the road if I have the opportunity to work in that sector. Technology is not only a constantly changing and exciting area to work in, but when coupled with education, it brings special value and meaning to the work that is being done. Through this research, I want to gain a better understanding of the presence that technology already has in the classroom and in how effective it has been. I do not see any reason that would point to it being anything but helpful, but hope that I am able to find hard evidence that supports its use in education. And finally, I want to see the exciting and new directions towards which the education technology space is headed.

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