Tech in schools

SFUSD is slowly but steadily working to bring more technology into the classrooms

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Bryan Marten, chair of the Lowell High Technology Committee, wants to put more iPads in the hands of students.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOSEPH SCHELL

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Therese Dudro, a junior at Lowell High School, is somewhat of an anomaly; she's 17 years old and she's computer savvy, but she doesn't own a smartphone.

Nearly half of all high school students in the United States now own smartphones or tablets, according to the 2012 survey released by Project Tomorrow (demographics suggest that percentage is even higher in San Francisco) and almost all bring these devices with them to class — a 400 percent increase since 2007.

Educators are attempting to not only leverage the prevalence of emerging technologies with standardized curriculum, but also engage tech-obsessed students in what now seems an almost archaically old-school style of teaching.

While Dudro may be sans smartphone, she isn't a stranger to computer-based technologies. "Computers on campus come in handy when I have to do research for an essay or work on a lab report" she told us. "One of the great things about Lowell is that students get to pick their own teachers, classes, and schedules; we call it Arena."

At Lowell, students have long enjoyed the freedom to shape their educational experience. Until recently, Arena has always taken place in Lowell's gymnasium, where students register for classes in shifts while teachers record the results and plugged the information into the schools official computer system.

This year, a team of students wrote a computer program making online registration possible. Lowell called this the Online Arena, and this new system was test-piloted last semester aided by the school's new Wi-Fi system. The Online Arena will be in full force for the fall semester that begins Aug. 19.

 

MOVING ONLINE

With programs like Arena making the migration into the online world, the ever-emerging dependence on Internet-reliant resources is only creating more of a demand for educational strategies to follow suit.

How can a teacher compete with the single tap of a touch-screen? With resources such as Google and Wikipedia at each student's fingertips, knowledge is seemingly infinite.

"When I was in school you didn't question the teacher because that was the authority on information", Michelle Dawson, SFUSD's Educational Technology Program Administrator, told us. "But now with the web, the information is so abundant. We have to prepare our students to sort through that information."

Dawson is somewhat of a newcomer to SFUSD (she settled into her new post on Dec. 3, 2012), but her short-lived stint here has already proved to be a productive one. On her watch, it seems that SFUSD's tech goals will be brought out of the hypothetical and inserted into the everyday realities of high school education.

There's a clear call for a high-tech re-vamp, and SFUSD is preparing to meet this need. SFUSD is gearing up all schools with campuswide Wi-Fi and infrastructures to support more digital engagement. Dawson said they are exploring the integration of iPads in some Bay Area classrooms, including at Lowell.

But most students are still waiting to experience the changeover firsthand. "We don't have iPads at Lowell," Dudro said matter-of-factly.

Actually, maybe she didn't get the email, but the school does have some.

"We have 20 iPads, soon to be 35 total with a new planned purchase; 35 is enough for all students in one class," Dr. Bryan Marten, an AP chemistry teacher who chairs the Lowell Technology Committee, told us. While this is far from the tech-laden goals rolling out in SFUSD's future, it's still evidence that these technologies are just beginning to bud.

 

IPRACTICE

Even the physical education teachers and sports coaches at Lowell have begun to have students use iPads to film each other and improve techniques, such as while at bat in baseball, to improve their swings.