Teachers from dozens of school districts explore technology at Tech2Teach conference
Victoria Camarillo, Corpus Christi Caller Times
The opening riff to the song “Back in Black” blasted in a dark high school auditorium Tuesday morning, and text on a giant screen instructed the sea of teachers inside to turn on their phone flashlights. The screen asked teachers to flash their lights and cheer if they taught at high schools, then middle schools, then elementary schools.
Then the screen said: “Make some noise if you make a difference.” The auditorium erupted in cheers.
Hundreds of teachers gathered at Veterans Memorial High School for Tech2Teach, a free conference hosted by the Corpus Christi Independent School District to share ideas for incorporating technology in the classroom.
The conference continues Wednesday — teachers who haven’t already registered are welcome — and Cary Perales, director of instructional technology for CCISD, said the district expects at least 1,000 attendees from more than 30 area school districts.
Mindy Hintze, services strategy director for the educational technology company Instructure, kicked off the event with a keynote address.
Most students use the internet for homework, and the vast majority of those students use phones to access the internet, she said. For students from poor families who don’t have access to smartphones or internet, technology in schools can bridge the gap.
Today’s students are “digital learners,” Hintze said, and their brains function differently than the generations before them.
“Every generation has this idea, ‘Oh, well, that’s the way I did it; therefore, that’s the way you should do it.’ And we have to change that,” Hintze said. “We run the risk of losing our digital learners if we don’t do something fundamentally different.”
Teachers then flocked to sessions covering an assortment of digital services and strategies for the classroom.
Janie Perez, a sixth-grade science teacher at the Gregory-Portland Independent School District, and Nancy Cavallin, a technology teacher at St. Mary’s Academy Charter School in Beeville, headed to a lesson on a program called Discovery Education. CCISD teachers Stephen Seiler and Emily Schellinger, who have used the program with their own students, led the session.
Perez and Cavallin had both used Discovery Education to access educational videos, but there was more to the program — a vast collection of articles on all subjects and the ability to create virtual poster boards for class projects.
It was Cavallin’s first time at the conference, and she said it was an opportunity to exchange ideas and advance curricula, “all for the benefit of our students.”
“At a conference like this, you can learn from some of the experts from the field and some of the teachers who have been using these tools in their classrooms for a while,” Cavallin said. “I can learn some of the ins and outs, and I don’t have to waste time in setting up my classroom.”
Events like this allow teachers to see what toys are at their fingertips, Perez said. She named virtual reality headsets as an example of technology that can open kids’ eyes. “You can’t realistically take kids to the Grand Canyon,” she said, “but with VR, you can.”
At a “Mathology” session, middle school teacher Adam Melchor showed teachers how to use a program called Smart Lab, a program that CCISD teachers can use for free, to create quizzes that students can take on smartphones. Not only do online quizzes save paper, Melchor said, but they also allow teachers to track students’ answers in real time, and give students the ability to work at their own pace.
At a nearby station, teachers navigated EasyCode, a program that guides kids through writing code by building animated games. The program, developed by a digital learning company called Learning.com, provides lesson plans for teachers and allows them to create assignments.
Coding isn’t just about learning a computer language, said Nettie Briggs, lead implementation specialist for Learning.com. “It’s basically breaking down a problem, trying different solutions, finding what works. When kids are learning coding skills, they really are learning logic.”
After completing the session, Brenda Aldridge, a teacher at the Early Childhood Development Center in CCISD, said she plans to incorporate the program in an after-school multimedia camp.
“This is so easy for students to engage in and start using right away,” she said. “We have English-language learners and kids that are all over the learning spectrum, so I think this is perfect. It’s going to be good for everybody.”
Vicky Camarillo covers education, immigration and other issues in South Texas and the rest of the Lone Star State. Support local journalism with a subscription to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
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