Archive for Monday, December 7, 2009


A new lesson plan: Technology and culture change the face of Lawrence schools

December 7, 2009


Lawrence High school students and teacher Alan Gleue, second from right, record and time a series of motor-powered propeller car races in an advanced physics class. Below, juniors Tawney Carter, left, and Isis Franklin prepare their motor-powered propeller car before racing it against the clock.

Lawrence High school students and teacher Alan Gleue, second from right, record and time a series of motor-powered propeller car races in an advanced physics class. Below, juniors Tawney Carter, left, and Isis Franklin prepare their motor-powered propeller car before racing it against the clock.

On the street

What qualities do you like in a teacher?

To be very understanding and to be serious, but at the same time be fun.

More responses

The slide rules have turned into high-powered graphic calculators, and the stopwatches have turned into adaptable computer programs. Teachers no longer just lecture at the front of the class; they stream videos, use interactive computer programs and receive immediate feedback from students.

Lisa Melton, elementary learning coach for six Lawrence schools, says when she started teaching 24 years ago, the teacher was the main source of information for elementary students.

“Right now, kids are bombarded with fast-moving, graphic-rich images, and they have the information at their fingertips,” she says. “Many of them even have the Internet on their cell phones.”

Technology has enhanced a teacher’s ability to engage students in several different methods. Melton says teachers can use video streaming to give students a virtual tour of Egyptian ruins or an interactive lesson plan from another teacher 1,000 miles away. She also says teachers are starting to use handheld clickers so all students have a chance to answer questions with immediate feedback instead of waiting on one student to raise a hand.

“What we are learning is there are different ways to teach kids, and those ways involve doing more that increases student engagement and brings the modality to them,” Melton says.

Local science and math teachers now use technology regularly in their classrooms.

Students in Alan Gleue’s Lawrence High School physics class use video and computer programs to improve the efficiency of handmade battery-powered cars. Gleue records videos of each battery-powered car to calculate speed and uses software to get the physics equations and characteristics of how the car moves.

“It was still fun before using video, but now what we can do is actually look at a lot of different characteristic: velocity, acceleration, the complete equations,” he says.

Is it too easy?

Though students have more ccess to information than ever before, technology does have its drawbacks, especially in math.

“What they’ve lost is kids use calculators so much at an early age that they’ve kind of lost that feel for numbers,” Gleue says. “In the days pre-calculator, we kind of had a better number-sense than what they do now. We were better at estimating and doing some of your basic math like multiplying.”

Pam Fangohr, math department chairman at Lawrence High School, says high-powered calculators have caused teachers to change the way they write math tests. Teachers write some questions for calculator use and others for which calculators are forbidden to ensure that students know the basics.

For some students, though, calculators are a last chance to understand math.

“I think there comes a point in time in their career if they still don’t know the math facts in high school, then we’ve got to teach them some other tools,” she says.

Teachers now also have to keep an eye out for students using technology to cheat in class. Fangohr says students can use iPods, cell phones or graphing calculators to store valuable information.

“Cheating does go on, and I don’t think you can be naïve to what access and technology these kids have and by far they know more than some of us know right now,” she says.

Face to face

Robert Shandy, counselor at Lawrence High School, says technology cannot replace the most important aspect of teaching: the relationship between a teacher and student.

While technology offers the information, teachers play a key role in motivating students to learn and push themselves in the classroom.

“You get knowledge, you get facts, but you don’t get the underlying realistic elements in life,” Shandy says. “[As a student] you felt good about going there, you wanted to get up and get dressed in the morning and go to that school because you had that rapport with that teacher.”

Learning on the fly

Computer skills and knowledge of other technology are almost necessary inside and outside the classroom. Students are now expected to reach a level of technological proficiency at younger ages. Students use Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point as early as third grade. Many elementary students also learn to use photo and video editing software.

“It’s taking some of the skills that you may need in the workplace, and those are no longer expectations for high school level, but those are skills kids are using as early as elementary school,” Melton says.

Teachers also are expected to keep up with the changing technology. Melton says although it is hard to find time to learn new technology, most teachers understand the positive effects of technology in teaching.

“It involves teachers having to step out of their comfort zone and overcome the fear that comes along with pushing a button that might make something disappear,” she says.


Paul R Getto 8 years, 2 months ago

This will get interesting in the next few years. We are teaching 21st century digital natives with obsolete 19th century methods. Moving forward will be expensive and contentious. It is, however, necessary;. We gave up horses and buggies once; we can give up textbooks too.

Kookamooka 8 years, 2 months ago

Some of our Kansas school districts have sophisticated "Smart" technology in the classrooms and the colleges and universities don't. So kids go from having tech enriched environments with teachers highly skilled at using these interactive whiteboards to primitive universities. Its going to be a culture shock for students in a few years when they go to college. They might begin to re-evaluate the value of a degree and decide not to attend a brick and mortar University. But wait... Kids go to school to support college basketball these days. That will keep them enrolled. Go KU!

KeithH30 8 years, 2 months ago


remember that the slide rule was cutting edge technology for its day. Remember the scene from the movie Apollo 13 where multiple PHDs were using slide rules to check calculations? I don't think NASA would have skimped...

I don't think a student who can text, surf the web on an iPhone, use a GPS to drive, set up playlists on an iPod, locate information with Google, etc. on an iPod is dumb. We need to change what we expect and how we teach it.

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