Cullman County teachers focus on tech at annual conference

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West Point fifth-grader Ellorie Kate Harbison (right) explains how her wired-up banana keyboard produces musical notes on the computer. Teachers even got to try playing songs! (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

FAIRVIEW – On Wednesday morning, most Cullman County Schools students got the day off while teachers and administrators attended the system’s seventh annual Cullman County Education and Technology Conference at Fairview Schools, learning about new educational technology and how technological developments are shaping the future of education.

Keynote speaker Kasey Bell, creator of the “Shake Up Learning” program told the crowd, “The rest of the world has changed, right?  The jobs that we’re preparing students for have changed. It’s a completely different world. But, unfortunately, education kind of gets caught up in this system, and it’s just time to move on and to shake things up.

“The other thing that really bothers me about the system that we have in the U.S. is that we educate students in batches.  They’re like on this conveyor belt, this factory model of education. ‘So, okay, you’re 13 years old. You learn this, this, and this–no more, no less.  Take your standardized test, move on; okay, next.’ You know, move on down the line.

“And as teachers, we all know what that model does to kids, right?  And it’s not fair to all kids; they don’t all walk away with exactly what they need that year.  And so, I feel like we have to take a step back and really look at what’s happening in our classrooms, and do the things that we can do, even within the system that’s somewhat broken.”

The conference was not just about getting tech into the classrooms, but also about helping teachers figure out some of the things they can do with it once it arrives.  One session’s description said that devices and applications are “not a silver bullet for the classroom. It’s what the students do with the apps and devices that matter.”

Google-powered Chromebooks have become a widespread classroom tool, and that trend was reflected in the breakout sessions.  Various sessions gave opportunities to learn a little more about:

  • developing instructional strategies around Google tools
  • G Suite
  • Read&Write for Google Chrome
  • advanced Google apps for teachers and administrators
  • beginning Google Docs, Slides and Classroom
  • Google Forms
  • Google Earth
  • Google Hangouts and Google Meet

Other programs presented included Board Builder, Edgenuity, Compass Learning, Kahoot, Quizizz, Seesaw, Classlink, District Over Drive, ESL and special education programs and others.

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette told The Tribune, “The really cool thing about it, besides our keynote speaker, (is that) all the sessions throughout the rest of the day are taught by our employees or our students, which is really exciting. They’re sharing knowledge that they’ve learned, passing it on to other teachers.”

Students teach the teachers!

Talk about shaking up learning!  One of the features of this year’s conference was the inclusion of students as session instructors and hands-on activity demonstrators.  (We all know they’re better with tech than adults, anyway!)

  • Holly Pond Elementary students Cade Albright and Jackson Miller introduced Discovery Education’s Board Builder, which allows students to merge their own content with Discovery Education resources to produce online boards.
  • Cold Springs sixth-grader Josiah Johnson introduced teachers to Read&Write for Google Chrome, an app that gives users text-to-speech, speech-to-text and other tools for reading and writing documents and online content.
  • In a large room in the middle school, teachers moved from station to station to see and try out tech devices and apps as students explained, demonstrated and supervised.

Barnette said that the students-turned-teachers were sharing “some form of technology that they’re using on their campus regularly.  A good example of that is my son. I think they used a program to help them write novels at Good Hope High School, so him and some of his peers are coming to share that knowledge with teachers about how they used that program.  Their teacher, Ms. Whitlock at Good Hope High School, had introduced it to them, but she’s letting them teach the adults how to use it. It’s really good for the kids, and it’s good for the teachers too, to see how it’s really being used.”

Barnette concluded about the event, “I’ll applaud our technology department and all the volunteers, because it does stretch our teachers by getting them out of a role of them learning and them sharing with other people.  I think it just takes their learning to another level, and so I’m really thankful for them as well.”

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