By Ben Bennett
On April 8, the Bedford schools shared how they are using technology through all of the different grade levels and schools in the Bedford system– ranging from SMART tables in Kindergarten, to accurate measurements of physics experiments, and metal robots in high school.
The highlight of the evening was the excitement of the student presenters when they showed all of the cool things they had used technology to create and all that they had learned.
Some of the highlights were the SMART tables, where younger students could practice spelling, math, science, and drawing on a touch sensitive TV that was oriented like a table. There was always a cluster of kids around the table, practicing things like word recognition (by dragging matching words to the corresponding images.) The table was quite game-like, so it captured their interest and kept all four students engaged as they practiced quick recognition of words. There were many other lessons available too and the teacher was quite enthusiastic about the technology.
The first grade students were showing off the abilities of the SMART boards that all classes in the Bedford schools are now using. These are projectors that show an image on a whiteboard (that the teacher can write on with a pen). But the system also picks up touches, so rather than using a mouse, the students and teachers can just point at the board to move things and click. As well as to show presentations, or to project close-up work so the whole class can see it, there are applications similar to the SMART table to help make learning fun and engaging.
As we move up the grades, we saw iPads and computers being integrated into the curriculum, from educational software, to video-editing and recording, as well as preparing papers and presentation (starting in the Davis school, but being emphasized more in Lane and up). Also in the Davis school, the students are starting to experiment with Lego robotics to build and program the activities of an alligator who senses and eats fish.
The Lane school students built on that to program a “Sheep water sensor” using a “Makey-Makey” interface to a computer. The task was to build a water trough for sheep that would text the farmer when the water level was low. They had to build a mechanical contraption that would complete an electrical circuit that the Makey-Makey would pass to the computer. It was interesting to see the two different approaches that the teams had taken, and I’m told that there was a wide variety of solutions that the other kids had taken. There was strong representation from the Lane school, too, showing movies the students had made, quizzes, cartoons showing how to solve multiplication problems, and using the Scratch visual programming language to make simple games. Continuing with the Lego robotics, the students had programmed the operation of a ferris wheel, picking up passengers, accelerating for the ride, and unloading them all… along with sound effects.
The JGMS students built on all that they had learned in the lower grades, to make elaborate quizzes for their fellow students, more advanced coding, floor planning for their dream house… labelled in French, sophisticated movies, as well as demonstrations of all the things they can use the iPads for. The kids in science class had used a sound sensor hooked up to a computer to graph the sound level of a ringing cell phone in a box. Their assignment was to study how sound waves propagate, and to build a sound-resistant box. Then all of the boxes were brought in to measure how much of the sound they attenuated.
Finally, the high-school students demonstrated their many achievements. The Biology and Physics departments were using sophisticated probes to measure real-world data, so the students could predict what would happen, and then make accurate tests of their predictions to test the hypothesis. In my school years, I remember having to use stop watches and hoping that my reflexes were fast enough to time slow pendulums… here the students were measuring high-speed events with great precision.
There were polished movies describing the subject they had studied, creation of a multimedia iPad manual on how to dissect a pig along with pictures, videos and full labels of all of the organs encountered. Animation of digital art, movie poster design (using digital drawing tools), and more.
The Economics students used Urban Planning software to redesign a blighted neighborhood in a fictional city, and then used Excel to analyze the tax revenue, expenses, job growth, and return to investors.
Many of these tools are funded by grants from the Bedford Education Foundation, and it is heartening to see the support that the kind people of this town give to the Bedford schools. It was also delightful to see how many teachers and students had taken time out of their lives to share what they are doing in their classes with the wider community. In turn, there were a surprising number of people who had come to learn about technology in the schools. Thanks to everyone involved for a fascinating and enjoyable event!