Google Apps Prepare Montana Students For Future with Changing Tech

Instructors hope the technology will help teach students how to learn on their own and prepare them to use technology after school.

by Sally Finneran, The Bigfork Eagle, Mont. / October 9, 2015 0
A third grader using Google Classroom. flickr/Kevin Jarrett

(TNS) -- Parents got a special look into daily life at Swan River School through technology at the school’s open house on Tuesday.

The middle school project based learning class dove head first into google technology to help facilitate the experience. The class of sixth, seventh and eighth graders made QR (quick scan) codes to show class pictures, a map for the eighth grade history trip, a video explaining the benefits of the box top program, and more.

“All of these QR codes are what the kids love about Swan River School,” teacher Shelley Emslie said.

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can be read with a smartphone app, and typically link to information through an Internet link. Students used Chromebooks and apps via Google Apps for Education to produce the project.

After last fall’s Parent Teacher Organization fundraiser and an anonymous donation the school was able to purchase 15 Chromebooks to be used by students. Since the arrival of the Chromebooks teachers have begun using the technology available through Google to help educate students.

In the middle school project based learning class, instructors Emslie and Maggie Goff hope the technology will help teach the students how to learn on their own and prepare them to use technology after school.

“It’s real world learning,” Emslie said. “We can’t send these kids out there without technology knowledge.”

“It’s them coming up with a problem and having to solve it on their own,” Goff said. “It’s all about learning how to learn on their own. This is really exciting what these kids are doing.”

Principal Marc Bunker said that many schools are already utilizing Google Apps for Education, and Swan River School is beginning to use it in all classes this year.

“We kind of dabbled in it last year, so I think that paved the way for us to make the transition last year,” Bunker said.

Google Apps for education is a free program, that schools and teachers can tailor to fit their specific needs and grade levels. While the eighth graders at Swan River School might have access to numerous apps to help with projects and learning, the first graders may only have a couple.

“You can tell that a lot of it is designed for education,” Bunker said. “The whole system, the interface is simple and straightforward. We don’t have to worry about updates, we don’t have to worry about viruses and things like that.”

Emslie’s fifth grade class last year began working with the Chromebooks and Google Apps. This year her fifth grade class is so proficient, they have started a “Tech Buddies” program, and have visited other classrooms to help other students learn the technology.

“We have the students teaching the students,” Bunker said. The fifth graders have even helped the eighth grade class.

While the tools available benefit students, Bunker said one of the elements that has been most important for him are the elements available to the staff, such as Google calendar, which allows him to know when field trips are scheduled, informs the janitorial staff when the gym is being used after school and more.

“It really facilitates communication and transparency,” he said. “It’s saving a lot of time. That’s the thing I’m most excited about.”

When the school began testing out the Google tools last year, Bunker said he went ahead and got himself a Chromebook.

“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “I’m just walking around with my chromebook. it does everything i need it to do.”

Teachers are also discovering different aspects and applications they can use in their classes.

The eighth grade english class worked on a writing project and were able to make it look nice on the screen and add background music with the Google Apps.

“Obviously that’s the kind of thing that peaks their interest,” Bunker said.

He also noted that in introducing more technology, they have been careful to make sure it isn’t just technology, for technology's sake. They have been busy figuring out how to best use the technology to benefit students.

The project based learning class will continue to play with the apps and create school projects, including the yearbook.

“The problem solving that goes on in this class is just amazing,” Emslie said. “It truly is about empowering the student.”

©2015 The Bigfork Eagle (Bigfork, Mont.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.