3D printers. Virtual reality. Tele-teaching.
If it sounds like a vision of the future, it’s not. This technology is already here.
Across the country, more and more school districts are employing groundbreaking tools to strengthen how students learn, to improve the relationship between educators and parents, and to break down any technological barriers keeping students from operating at the peak of their powers.
As school districts prepare for the start of another academic year, we searched for some of the many awe-inspiring, transformative things they’re doing with educational technology.
1. Computer Repair Labs
Summer work for students that prepares them for the future—and pays? That’s the idea behind California’s Merced Union High School District, which operates a summer program that hires students to fix Chromebooks for classroom use. Working from a computer repair lab, students earn $10 per hour cleaning out computers and replacing parts. What’s more, they get the opportunity to cultivate hands-on experience with these machines; experience that could translate to tech-oriented jobs after graduation.
2. Snow-day lessons
Just because school’s closed doesn’t mean learning has to stop. Illinois’ Leyden High School District 212 (along with two other school districts) is piloting a specialized e-learning program for when inclement weather shuts down schools. Working remotely from home, students can participate in online learning assignments in a manner that fits with their own schedules. And if they have problems? They can instantly connect with teachers (and school staff) via Google Chat or email.
Faced with under staffing issues, Monticello School District in Wisconsin decided to think outside the box. Using Cisco and EMC network communications equipment, the district developed a tele-classroom initiative where students can virtually connect with other classes. Featuring quality video and sound, and incorporating mobile and fixed units, the classroom telepresence technology currently connects students with 15 shared classes they wouldn’t otherwise be able to join.
4. 3D printers
Thanks to its 27 MakerBot Replicator® Desktop 3D printers, Montclair Public School District in New Jersey is giving students a chance to leverage the future of 3D printing technology. Administrators envision this printing education program as a journey that starts in elementary school and takes students all the way through high school. Over the years, students can learn about everything from operating software and creating designs to collaborating with engineers and building practical items, such as drone parts and 3D-printed hands.
5. Digital textbooks
As part of an initiative to build district-wide digital learning environments, Wilson County School District in Tennessee has partnered with Discovery Education to introduce their series of digital textbooks (or Techbooks) into K-12 classrooms. With interactive features, read-aloud text, platform neutrality, and free updates, these textbooks will offer students a vibrant new way to learn about curriculum-essential topics in math, science, and social studies.
6. Essay e-coaches
Essays are often the most stressful part of the college application process. But California’s Perris Union High School District hopes to make essay writing easier. How? By partnering with Story2’s platform, which guides students in how to answer common college essay questions and strengthens their ability to tell focused, organized stories. It also helps district administrators track the progress of their students and note when a particular student is having trouble with his or her writing.
7. Student data systems
New educational technology can also help entire districts function more smoothly. Charles County Public Schools in Maryland is adopting a new student information system from EduPoint to connect its 36 campuses and over 25,000 students.From appointment scheduling to data analytics to school/family engagement, the new system is designed to let administrators, parents, students, and teachers connect with (and share) vital information when it matters most: in real time.
8. Virtual field trips
What’s an easy (and affordable way) to take students through the dusty corridors of the Pyramid of Giza, up to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, or along the vibrant majesty of the Great Barrier Reef? The secret, Florida’s Polk County Public Schools hopes, lies in virtual technology. Teachers in this district are starting to use branded Google Cardboards to provide students with “virtual reality” field trips in detailed panoramas of educational sites that make them feel like they’re actually on location.
9. Pre-K digital tools
You’re never too young to learn. Warrior Run School District in Pennsylvania, in partnership with ReadyRosie, is giving parents and caregivers easy access to ReadyRosie’s videos and activities for children ages 0 to 5. Teaching kids simple ideas about words and numbers (in both English and Spanish), these programs aim to provide pre-Kindergarten children with a deeper level of engagement that can also prepare them for the digital classrooms they’ll eventually join.
10. Hi-tech upgrades
Colorado Springs School District 11, the oldest school district in the region, has a big surprise for returning students. Designed to help strengthen the district’s emphasis on STEM teaching, classrooms will now feature new, hi-tech upgrades that make learning easier, more engaging, and more fun. Among these upgrades are Raspberry Pi technology (essentially a computer the size of a credit card), STEM and iPad labs, and interactive white boards on which teachers can manipulate elements with their fingers.