Students, teachers explore new technology

Allie Gross, Opinions Editor

Science teacher Aaron Brown wanted his astronomy class to see the stars.

Though students’ scheduling conflicts prevented his class from meeting at night, Brown’s goal was made possible by the integration of iPads into his classroom, which allow students to view stars and planets using applications and GPS capability.

Senior Madeline Pekala uses a Google Chromebook for her Humanities class. Chromebooks are one of the new pieces of technology being tested at GBN. Photo by Resa Magill.

According to Ryan Bretag, coordinator of instructional technology, Brown’s pilot program with iPads is one of several initiatives in the school’s technological exploration.

Brown said he thinks student familiarity with the Apple interface combined with the iPad’s speed allows students to find information and organize ideas in the classroom.

“It’s able to pull up information a lot quicker than some of the computers we have in the classroom,” Brown said.

Brown has used the iPads for applications that give students the opportunity to make creative projects.The applications allow students to bring in Internet media like Youtube videos to add to the project, such as one student who created a presentation about Venus and used an application called Poplit to create a “concept map,” placing Venus in the center and adding links to specific information about the planet.

Bretag said individual students are also checking out different devices to test, including Asus Transformer Prime tablets and Google Chromebooks. Bretag has chosen students to test both by accepting volunteers and asking students if they would be interested.

“Teachers provide us with an overall classroom experience,” said Bretag. “Students provide us with an authentic, first-hand learner experience that informs us of local realities as well as blind spots.”

Senior Lauren Tzirides was offered the opportunity to try out a Chromebook after she expressed her excitement to Bretag about using one to vote for the SA Board elections. Tzirides said the Chromebook has been very helpful in school for research, blogging, word processing and integration with Google Apps, since the school has “gone Google.”

Tzirides cited the Chromebook’s unique operating system, “minimalism” and sleek, small design as other advantages. Bretag added that other advantages of the Chromebook include a short start-up time and account customization across machines.

“By next year you should start to see a smattering of Chromebooks replacing netbooks,” Bretag said.

In order to further deepen the school’s usage of Google and emphasize interactive learning, Bretag also hopes to bring Google+, Google’s social network, to the school.

According to Bretag, Google+ offers the option of “hangouts,” which allow up to eight people to video conference. He added that hangouts could facilitate student collaboration on an assignment with the simultaneous use of Google Docs and video chat.

Bretag said despite the trials of new devices, his primary focus for technology is discussion with existing student bodies like Student Advisory Board, as well as expanding the current Technology Advisory committee of faculty to include students.

“I always am a huge supporter of what the students want to talk about, and if students are interested in exploring and want to talk about technology and want to have their voices heard, come to the IDEA,” Bretag said.

Bretag emphasized that he wants to avoid “[jumping] on the latest trend” and instead ensure technology serves the school’s educational needs. For this reason, he said not to expect any radical changes in the near future.

“We want to be tech-enabled, not tech-rich,” Bretag said.