Schools at the head of the technology class

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North Shore Country Day School uses iPads, loaded with educational applications, in its classrooms to spark learning in their students.

Most parents remember what it was like to get new-fangled technology equipment in their classroom — white boards instead of chalkboards and computers instead of electric typewriters, for example. This fall, accessibility to innovative gear and tools will spark learning and get students excited about the school year.

“We see technology as a method that enhances and supports teaching or learning in some sort of meaningful way,” said Lane Young, director of library and educational technology at North Shore Country Day School (NSCDS) in Winnetka.

Ahead of the curve, NSCDS is in their sixth year of using Google Apps, a cloud-based service from Google that features several customizable web applications.

“Google Docs promotes collaboration not only between students, empowering them to do group and partner projects in different sort of ways, but between the teacher and the student as well,” said Young. “Our sixth grade science students were able to work in a group to create a presentation using the research tools built into Google Apps. They were able to work simultaneously on the slides, even when they were at home. Further, they were able to receive feedback from the teacher as they did the project to make sure that they were on track, both with the work that was completed and with the research that they’d found.”

NSCDS offers tech instruction to students, which combines information literacy skills with curricular instruction. Several websites are recommended to students as well, including web-based programming curriculum sites alongside ones that are geared toward mathematics, reading and science know-how.

Gordon Dezotell, math teacher at Hinsdale Adventist Academy, said, “www.khanacademy.org and www.aleks.com are excellent supplementary sites to help students in math.”

The hottest new item in schools, however, is the iPad, which offers numerous educational apps for students and teachers, providing a new way to learn. “We think our new iPad program will offer exciting options for our students,” said Young. “The iPad allows students to handwrite notes but still maintain a digital record, thanks to the tablet features. The ability to create multimedia due to the camera and microphone built-in is also available.”

Hinsdale Adventist Academy principal, Robert Jackson, recommends that if the school does not provide it, each child should have their own iPad, iPod Touch or high quality tablet with various educational apps loaded. “There are some fantastic academic and organizational apps available, like ‘Notability,’ that help students to get the most out of their education.”

Teresa Connelly, director of communications at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles said, “We are moving to using iPads in the classrooms this fall. We are very excited about it.”

Clearly, technological advances in the classroom can’t take the place of many organic ways of learning. “While I think we offer state of the art tools and opportunities for our teachers and students, I’m equally proud of the times when we determine that doing something the “old fashioned way” is going to lead to a superior outcome,” said Young.

“The most important equipment needed for a great start to the year is a healthy body and a well-rested mind,” Jackson said. “Make sure you are getting outside and being active, and be sure to get plenty of rest. Work on your fitness because many studies prove a link between increased academic achievement and physical fitness. There are lots of great gadgets you can use to help with research and to be organized, but being able to think clearly is your best tool for learning.”