WATERVILLE, Maine — Maine educators say the state has done a great job putting technology at the fingertips of students, but more needs to be done to ensure that computers and iPads are being used to maximum benefit.
K-12 teachers from across the state gathered at Thomas College on Friday for the Move the Needle Summit, an event organized by the Maine Department of Education.
“What we’ve been kind of drifting back to is the focus on the stuff,” said Mike Muir, program director for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. “We wonder if we’re a little stuck in how we’re using the devices.”
Some educators and Department of Education officials are concerned that the iPads and laptops students get at school are being relied on too heavily for word processing and basic research.
Muir said the Department of Education will pull together a design team to craft a strategic plan to guide how the state will encourage and help teachers get the most use of the technological tools in their classrooms. Several people who attended Friday’s summit have asked to participate, he said.
Mauri Dufour, a kindergarten teacher from Auburn, shared with the group how her young students use technology every day in her classroom.
Her students use iPad applications to share videos of their work with parents and explain what they’re learning and why. Her kindergarteners can scan QR codes on books and listen to their teacher’s recorded voice reading books to them. Some of them can blog, which helps make them more independent and take pride in the work they accomplish.
“When they show what they know, learning becomes more powerful,” she said.
Billy Corcoran, a third-grade teacher from Old Orchard Beach, showed two similar pictures of classrooms in which students were lined up in rows watching a teacher at the front of the room — one from 1916 and the other from 2016. That model isn’t just a hindrance to using technology effectively, it’s a hindrance to learning effectively, he said.
He stressed a more collaborative approach to classroom learning. His classroom features a few round tables, comfortable chairs, and open space where students can work together with the technology. He doesn’t stand at the front of his classroom lecturing, but rather wanders around interacting with students as they work together on projects.
“Schools aren’t built for learning, and that’s a really sad thing,” Corcoran said.
He also gives his students say in what they work on. For example, a couple of his students wanted to learn to be disc jockeys, so they used a program called GarageBand to create songs and then played those songs during a concert for their classmates. Another group of students wanted to learn about American sign language, so they created instructional videos for their peers.
“The best learning happens when kids learn what they want to learn about,” he said.
Jack Bilodeau and Elli Dow are seventh-graders in Winslow who were among a half-dozen middle schoolers to attend Friday’s summit. They said they use iPads almost every day in some classes, and they feel involved and invested in those classes. About half their classrooms resemble the model Corcoran laid out, according to Bilodeau, but some teachers still sit the students in rows, have them read out of books and do assignments on paper.
Mia Morrison, a teacher at Foxcroft Academy, said technology can be a valuable tool in engaging students who are otherwise uninterested in schoolwork.
Muir said the work would continue and that the Department of Education wants to host another event for principals, superintendents and other administrators so they’re able to provide the support teachers need in order to implement new teaching techniques with their technologies.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.