Sept. 13, 2013. Learning about technology has become a common part of the school curriculum, but it’s still the exception when third graders are using their own assigned tablet computer in the classroom. Rarer still is the opportunity to learn to use the technology with a NC Teacher of the Year. Students in Bronwyn Merritt’s class at Mabel Elementary got the benefits of both an exceptional tool and exceptional teaching as they learned to use Google Gmail this week with Merritt and former N.C. Teacher of the Year Darcy Grimes.
The lesson began with the basics of using an iPad gently. “How should you hold it?” asked Grimes, to which a student responded “like a baby.” “How do we put it down on the desk?” “Easy,” was the reply. After covering proper handling of the iPads, Grimes demonstrated how to set up a student e-mail account in the school system’s Gmail network and how to create and send messages, starting with a message to Mrs. Merritt. As the students continue to work with the iPads, they will also use them to conduct research, write reports, and prepare presentations on assigned topics.
Students come to school with a wide variety of experience with technology. “Some of the students are familiar with a tablet or laptop computer from home and some have never held one,” said Grimes. “We try to make sure we cover the basics with everyone and then we can move ahead and keep everyone on track and focus on the lesson content. Technology is a great asset, but it is basically just another means to help strengthen instruction. It’s not necessarily the best tool for every lesson, but it’s always a tool they’re excited to use, and that’s a real benefit for both students and teachers.”
Merritt agrees that instructional technology is a valuable asset in the classroom. “It can be used in just about any part of the curriculum if you have access to the appropriate resources. There are very good ways to apply technology in teaching English/language arts, mathematics, science, history, the arts, you name it.”
Merritt noted that she had recently used iPads for students to work on their multiplication tables and that it had been a great success. “It’s the first time I’ve had all the students learn the tables on schedule,” she said with a smile. “They got it down really fast, and it was also nice that they weren’t losing the multiplication cards we often use for that part of the curriculum.”
Merritt and Grimes agreed that another advantage of the iPads and other portable technology devices is that they are much faster than the desktop computers in the computer lab. The newer devices boot up much more swiftly and are also quicker for loading programs and searching for online resources.
Mabel’s third and fourth grade classes have iPads for each student as part of the school system’s ongoing effort to evaluate the use of personal technology devices for all students. Students in higher grades at Mabel have other devices, including netbooks for fifth and eighth grades, MacBook laptops for sixth grade, and Chromebook laptops for seventh graders.
Principal Mark Hagaman is already impressed with the benefits of the additional technology. “’It is amazing to witness the fusion of technology and instruction in the hands of our professionals and students,” he remarked. “We have seen immediate returns on this investment and I am excited about the long term results of this program.”
Darcy Grimes was a third grade teacher at Bethel Elementary when she was named the NC Teacher of the Year for 2012-13. In her new role as instructional technology facilitator for Bethel and Mabel, she’s able to apply her skills with more students across a wider range of grades, and she is excited with the challenges and opportunities of her new position. Even before her selection as Teacher of the Year, Grimes was recognized as a leader in the use of instructional technology. Her current position enables her to help other teachers expand their skills with this increasingly important method of instruction. “I love working with technology to enrich classroom instruction,” she says, “and I really love the opportunity to work with so many wonderful teachers at both schools.”
Bronwyn Merritt moved to Watauga County from Alabama in the summer of 2012 with her husband and young son and she quickly became enthusiastic about her students and the school. “I have really nice students and Mabel is a truly wonderful school,” she remarked. “I already feel very much at home.”
Merritt says the help from Grimes has further fueled her passion for teaching. Grimes works at Mabel on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other Friday, and Merritt looks forward to her visits before she even gets to school. “I always wake up excited on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I know Darcy is coming, and I’m especially excited when it’s a week that she’s here three days instead of two.” Judging by the reactions of her students, that enthusiasm is contagious.