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Technology enhances learning in One91 elementary classrooms

Technology enhances learning in One91 elementary classrooms

Vista View Elementary kindergarten teacher Samantha Downey remembers the first time she saw a smart board back when she was in middle school. It was wheeled into the classroom on a cart, it took a while to start up, and only the more tech-savvy teachers tried to use it. 

Since then, Downey has experienced the evolution of classroom technology first-hand. As an undergraduate earning her teaching degree at the University of North Dakota, she took a course called Tech for Teachers where she learned how to use a variety of smart boards. Additionally, the class ran through SeeSaw, which provided her with a students’ perspective of the instruction and communication platform. Those experiences served Downey well during her first few years as a kindergarten teacher as she gradually integrated the smart board, SeeSaw and other technology into her daily routine.

The smart board, in particular, now plays a big role in helping Downey stay organized. It’s been that way since the return to in-person learning after the pandemic. 

“I basically run my whole day on there. I adjust it every morning during my prep time. Instead of having written lesson plans, I can use a slide deck and have hyperlinks to all the lessons, pictures and information about the activities we’re going to do that day, videos and games. Everything is there and it’s really simplified everything,” she said.

Teacher Samantha Downey uses technology to stay organized.

That simplicity is something that helps keep students engaged.

“We’ve gotten rid of that transition time where you lose the kids if you’re trying to search for a lesson or pull something up on the screen. I don’t lose any of that learning time because they don’t have to get resettled and refocused on what we’re doing,” Downey said.

Not only are students more focused, they’re also motivated to complete their own assignment and behave responsibly so they can have a turn to show their work on the colorful 3-foot by 5-foot touchscreen. 

“It’s not something they get to do all day long, so they like to get the opportunity to come to the board. It’s a motivator for them,” Downey said. “There’s also value in them getting to take control of their learning. They get to take their turn, use the board, and they feel like a teacher and like they’re a part of their learning.”

SeeSaw plays a big role for Downey in helping parents stay connected to their child’s learning, as well. Using SeeSaw, she provides regular updates about what students are working on and shares photos from classroom activities. She sends pictures of the books they’re reading in class so parents can talk about the book at home. SeeSaw also makes it easier for Downey to communicate with parents.

“Parents can send me a message through SeeSaw and it’s set up to go directly to my phone, as well,” she said. “I know from parent feedback that they feel a lot more involved with their child’s learning because they’re seeing what we’re doing all the time.”

Downey said the advancement of communication has also paved the way for increased collaboration between classrooms, schools and even school districts. One example is the implementation of the new Heggarty reading curriculum. Downey has been able to use resources such as videos and slide decks that have helped make the transition a success. 

Samantha Downey uses a smart board.

“It’s easier to share things and find resources,” she said. “Heggarty has done a great job with technology and it’s been so helpful because it’s been consistent and every day we’re able to play a video and follow along with it, and now kids are excelling with this new reading and writing curriculum.”

Even small technological advances can have a big impact in the classroom. Over the last couple years, Downey has worn a microphone in class. Kindergarten classrooms can get noisy and the microphone allows Downey to be heard without having to raise her voice. 

“It’s extremely helpful. It changes the dynamic,” she said. “I don’t have to strain my voice. I can stay calm but they can still hear me. The demeanor is different.”

Downey is pleased that her willingness to embrace new technology into her classroom is helping students stay engaged and be successful.

“It’s interesting to see them pick up on it and get excited about it,” she said. “Learning about how to use technology has been helpful now that I use technology as much as I do. It’s something that’s been very beneficial.”