Departments adopt new technological tools in class

Upper school teachers have implemented a plethora of technological tools to supplement the curricula of individual courses, making use of electronic resources that have come to define the 21st century.

The school’s new Technology Integration Specialist Jennifer Lamkins said that about 125 classes are using Moodle, an online forum that serves as a wiki, chat room and medium for posting documents or links, this year. The science, math and foreign language courses in particular are seeking to balance new technology and traditional teaching strategies.

Math classes embrace tablets

Most math teachers opted to use tablets this year instead of regular laptops. Tablets allow the user to write directly on the screen, which is simultaneously viewed on the screen and projected onto the class board. The major benefit, math department head Paula Evans said, is that a teacher can write his or her notes or lesson on the tablet, save it, and make it available online.

“We always had to turn our natural [mathematical] langue and symbols into computer language” to share notes or homework, Evans said.

Only math teachers Jeff Snapp, Kanwaljit Kochar and Ashley Satterthwaite-Johnson use the tablets regularly in class because it takes practice to write on the screen with ease.

Posting the notes or homework solutions on Moodle presents a dilemma for the math department.

“I think we reach a sort of saturation point,” Evans said. When students look at the steps of a problem before trying it, “students are not actively doing the math. We are trying to play with this to find a little bit of a medium.”

The math department is also using graphing software such as Autograph, Algebra in Motion and Calculus in Motion software, Geometry Sketchpad and a calculator tool called Smartview. AP Statistics also uses a program called Fathom, which “combines visual and computational elements,” Evans said.

Only sophomores consistently have class notes posted on Moodle. While all students receive textbooks for Calculus, Precalculus, Algebra 2 The Fundamentals and Precalculus: Trigonometry and Functions, the books are also accessible online.

Science classes go digital

AP Physics B classes have made the leap to electronic textbooks by switching from a traditional book to a Kinetic Books Company book entitled “Principles of Physics.” The digital book is installed via CD, is cheaper than the hard copy and involves animations and interactive problems. The book allows students to highlight text on the screen and even type notes in the margins.

“It’s more readable, a little more casual in its style,” science teacher Karen Hutchinson said. “It has more bells and whistles, and it can read to you, which encourages students to use it more.”

Director of Studies Deborah Dowling discovered the digital book at a conference of science teachers two years ago. A poll of last year’s physics students revealed that nearly 80 percent only used their book for homework problems, Hutchinson said. Because a new edition was about to be purchased anyway, the department decided the time was ripe for the change.

AP Physics B student Claire Kao ’10 is enjoying the book’s new features.

“It has cool little animations to explain the concepts, which can be hard to visualize otherwise,” she said.

Math teachers would like to make a similar switch, and are excited to watch this experience unfold.

Meteorology, Geology and Physics B classes are also using tablets and have increased dependence on Moodle.

“In science, the main disciplines are so different that there can’t be one overarching goal for the technological future,” department head Lawrence Axelrod said. “Teachers use technology as they find it helpful in each field.”

English teachers utilize images

The English department is also making use of Moodle and has found increased use for the presence of images and video in the classroom. They will continue to experiment with new technology as the year progresses, department head Laurence Weber said.

History teachers employ blogs, web

History classes such as Laurence Klein’s AP Government class and Dror Yaron’s sophomore and junior classes are continuing to use blogs to discuss the election and the news. Many teachers are posting documents on Moodle or the school website’s Course Materials link. In AP Geography, online geographic exercises and spreadsheets are an important element of the course. Nini Halkett’s World Politics class is based on an online simulation run by Whittier College. Department head Katherine Holmes-Chuba also said that the AP Art History classes have “gone completely digital” in storing their art lecture files.

Language courses tell digital stories

Moodle has eclipsed the online forums used by some teachers last year. Foreign language teacher Nancy Holme-Elledge feels that the evolution of teaching technology opens a myriad of doors to help students learn better. She thinks features like the Language Lab and online exercises increase creativity, innovation and critical thinking. She is especially excited about the opportunity for her Spanish III students to creat multi-media presenations with digital storytelling programs.

Foreign language teachers, too, are relying on Moodle to post handouts, hold question-and-answer sessions and play language games. Foreign language teachers Dr. Roser Gelida and Dr. Qinru Zhou are using Sanako Lite, which enables students to record themselves speaking without a trip to the Language Lab. Gelida also discovered “GCasting,” in which students send recordings to their teachers via cell phone.

A look to the future

Lamkins is familiarizing herself with each department and working on several projects. She is working with Video Arts teacher Cheri Gaulke on a global video project with students in Qatar and looking into audio books with the librarians. Her goal is to make technology a truly integral part of the Harvard-Westlake education.

“Looking to the future, I want to see what’s coming up the pike for our students, and try to have a campus that reflects that,” she said.

Head of School Dr. Jeanne Huybrechts is excited to see where the technological aspect of the future leads the school.

“I think that at the very least each teacher ought to know what’s out there and be fluent in the language of educational technology and should incorporate whatever is effective in their classes,” Huybrechts said.