The future of learning

Today’s schools combine technology with traditional methods of teaching to enhance learning for their students. Teachers use a variety of methods — from flexible seating to electronic games — to personalize education for the students.

Photo courtesy of Anna Lenz Sixth-grade students are shown using Chromebooks and flexible seating while learning Spanish in Haley Chace’s classroom at Holy Redeemer School in Marshall.


As technology continues to advance, educational institutions like Holy Redeemer School in Marshall have learned to balance the use of traditional teaching methods while also embracing new technological opportunities.

While the teachers are attempting to use the best possible methods available for the greatest student outcomes, it might look a little differently from one classroom to another. Fourth- through eighth-grade students are in their second year of using Chromebooks, while kindergarten through third-grade students have new Samsung tablet devices.

“In music class, I use our new Samsung tablets in the younger grades as a fast assessment tool,” music instructor Anna Lenz said. “When I am asking them to draw music symbols or notes or practice putting notes on the staff, I will use a whiteboard app.”

The devices also heighten learning by allowing the students to tap into audio features of musical instruments. It’s important to note, however, that those opportunities do not replace traditional hands-on experiences.

“In all grades, the students can go onto a music website to listen to instruments or play quick music-themed games,” Lenz said. “The technology never takes away from playing actual instruments or singing songs. It is a tool to enhance the learning, but never takes away from experiencing music and performing together.”

Though physical activity is still a primary objective, Deb Westby also uses technology in her physical education classes.

“She has a portable SMART Board that she uses to show videos demonstrating a new game or have the kids do yoga with once a week,” Lenz said. “They will also use the SMART Board to keep track of their own laps when they are running. She is using technology, but they are still physically active and working together for games and skill building.”

In Spanish classes at HRS, teacher Haley Chace takes the best that technology has to offer but also keeps conventional methods when appropriate.

“Some traditional methods are tried and true and will last for many lifetimes to come,” Chace said. “Some students will always learn better with a textbook in their hands, while others will learn by listening to music. Each student has an individual style and a learning method that really speaks to her or him. Keeping traditional methods around is going to be important to those who still learn best from a lecture and not from a free search period.”

Chace said that as great as technology is, it does have its challenges.

“Putting the entirety of human knowledge at the fingertips of students is a great way for them to learn, but is also a great way to distract them,” she said. “With clear expectations, however, the good can easily outweigh the problems.”

All K-8 students at HRS study Spanish. The youngest grades use their new devices at times.

“All students come to Spanish (class), starting in kindergarten,” Chace said. “The kindergarten students learn about colors, numbers, clothing, weather, shapes, days of the week and months of the year. First grade learns about letter sounds and the alphabet, as well as higher numbers and things in the classroom.”

“Second grade works on different religions, emergency responders and some early work with verbs. Third grade re-visits clothing, talks about coming and going and learns about places around town,: Chace added.

Chace said the students in grades 4-8 bring their Chromebooks to Spanish class every day.

“Fourth grade starts to describe people, places and things,” she said. “Fifth grade begins to learn more about actions that are done at home and around school. Six through eighth grades learn more action verbs and more conversational Spanish, so that by the time they graduate, each student can hopefully talk a little about a variety of subjects.”

Chace said all of the grades use vocab study lists on Quizlet.

“We play some different learning games available online as well,” Chace said. “The kids love a cooperative game called Quizlet Live, where each team has all the correct answers split up and have to talk to figure out which one is right.”

At certain points in time, the students also celebrate their progress with festivities, where they continue to learn more Spanish.

“There are various parties, such as a birthday party in second grade, a las posadas (religious festival) celebration in fourth and eighth grade and a hands-on cooking activity in seventh grade,” Chace said.

Flexible seating is another newer advancement that helps many students be more engaged in their learning.

“Flexible seating started (in Spanish) when I noticed that the desks that worked for my upper middle schoolers were terrible for my lower elementary kids,” Chace said. “I looked around at different ideas, including a table set-up, height adjustable desks and the choice seating. I settled on non-traditional seating when it became obvious that kids like to sit on pillows, stools, camping chairs, bean bags and other odd seats.”

This year marks the second that Chace’s classroom offers flexible seating. She said she really enjoys the versatility it gives her classroom.

“Traditional desks are difficult to arrange in a way that is beneficial to all kids, whereas with the flexible, non-traditional seating lets students sit as close or as far away from others as they need in order to do their activity for the day,” she said. “My bookshelves move, my chairs can be moved and my classroom can go from a big room to small sections and anywhere in between.”

Kim Louwagie, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies as well as eighth-grade religion, uses technology in a variety of ways.

“In the social studies classroom, technology allows teachers and students easy access to interactive maps and map games, video clips, virtual tours, resources for research and for presentation capabilities,” Louwagie said. “Technological devices are an important tool for classroom use.”

Louwagie is quick to point out, though, that technology cannot replace a lot of aspects in a classroom.

“Technology cannot replace a teacher’s power of observation to gauge understanding,” she said. “Technology cannot replace the very important discussion and questioning that promotes and inspires the learning that occurs within a group. Technology cannot replace the development of communication and cooperation skills that mature by working with other people in person.”

“A successful classroom needs the useful tools that technology can provide and, more importantly, a motivated, intuitive teacher,” Louwagie added.

Third-grade teacher Mary Surprenant also tries to sprinkle in technology when it makes sense to.

“I try to look for ways to use technology to enhance the curriculum I teach,” Surprenant said. “For example, after studying geography this fall, we looked at Google Maps to get the ‘big world’ picture down to finding the street Holy Redeemer School is on in Marshall.”

In Sharon Wenker’s sixth-grade science class, students are currently using their Chromebooks.

“They are making PowerPoint presentations about engineering and technology,” Wenker said. “Each group is using their science book as the main resource. These presentations will be presented next week (Monday and Tuesday) during science class. Students’ parents will be invited to see their presentations as well.”

First-grade teacher Juliana Neuman said her students use their tablets to review skills with apps like IXL and Raz-Kids.

“My students love to read books from the Epic! App because they have access to so many more books than those that are in our classroom library,” Neuman said. “We also have our reading books on our tablets and the first graders and I have one day in which we read from the tablet, one day we read our story on the SMART Board and one day we read from our hardcover books.”

Neuman said she believes it is important for first-graders to have pencil and paper skills, but that she also likes to make it fun for them by having them dry different activities on their tablets.

“In a nutshell, I introduce and teach skills the traditional way and then reinforce with technology,” she said.

HRS librarian Joyce Evert also welcomes students to the library to learn and check out books at least once a week. While technology can enhance learning in a number of ways, most will argue that there will always be room for hands-on book reading and learning, continuing to make libraries viable in the future.

The school’s annual book fair is coming up (Nov. 2-9), where students can purchase new items to read. Families are invited to attend the book fair in the evening on Nov. 6 and Nov. 9.