Char Soucy, First Grade Teacher, Fernan Elementary School
Coeur d'Alene, ID
Appropriate use of technology to support learning is taken seriously at Fernan Elementary. Principal Jim Gray says in his welcoming remark on the school's Web site: "Implementing all of our available technological resources is exciting. It does not, however, displace Fernan's commitment to provide the highest quality education possible; it only enhances our efforts. As a professional educational team, we will use any tools within reach to more efficiently promote the school and hook our kids on the power of education."
This philosophy is evident in the school's focus on literacy and character education. Char Soucy, a first grade teacher, is concerned about the negative influences that children receive daily, and envisions her students "productive, caring members of society." In line with this vision, she teaches her students to use technology responsibly, and how to decide when technology is appropriate to use for a given purpose. She notes that technology is now part of our world and is here to stay. Her role is to teach them the best uses of technology to support communication, build community spirit and as a tool for learning.
When using technology, Soucy keeps her focus first on the curriculum and on her purpose. She uses technology with her students to help meet the curricular goals by providing resources and saving time. The children learn that sometimes technology, such as the Internet, can make information collecting faster and at other times it is less appropriate. Generally, students work at the computer collaboratively and are often encouraged to explain the "how" and "why" of their tasks. When they are collecting data as part of a science unit, they look up information on pre-selected web sites. Technology can be used during every stage of the inquiry-based learning model. In the data analysis stage the children create slide show pages by using a template set up by the teacher. They also import their own artwork to the slideshow by either using a draw and paint program, or scanning in drawings for their final presentation. As the children work on the pages, each can decide individually which facts to highlight about the animal they studied. They use word processing to add text to the pages.
Technology supports the focus on literacy in other ways as well - social and communication skills are developed when children use technologies together. The children work together on computers most of the time. She finds the conversation and problem solving that occurs during their work to be valuable for students. As Soucy's students learn to use scanners or other technologies they teach others how to use them. "When children have to explain how to do things to someone else," says Soucy, "it reinforces the task for them. It also reinforces their verbal communication skills to have to explain it to someone else." Soucy teaches the children to explain without using their hands, relying on their words to communicate.
Soucy researches software programs to determine which are most appropriate for her students. Soucy has found that some educational programs have components that provide little educational benefit, such as coloring games. "A lot of technology isn't beneficial for children's development," she says. "Children, especially at the first grade level, need to manipulate objects to have a concrete model form which to develop abstract concepts," adds Soucy. Sometimes a computer simulation can do a better job, such as showing the way the heart pumps blood around the body, but sometimes it is a poor substitute for the real objects. The trick is to know which to use and when.
At the beginning of the year most of her students' experiences with computers are limited to computer games. Soucy broadens her students' view by showing them that computers are more than games, that computers can be valuable tools for learning, depending on how one uses them. Soucy likes to use this analogy with her students: The computer is a tool just like a pencil. "I tell them explicitly - it's a tool to learn and help present what you know. The way you use it is what counts." She adds, "At first, learning how to use the computer may be the object of the lesson, but after a while, the computer should fade into the background just as a pencil and paper do.
As the year progresses and her students learn what computers have to offer, Soucy has seen a shift in her students' attitude as they are becoming independent thinkers. While the four classroom computers are very popular with some children during "choice time," many children opt to create artwork or join writing groups. Recently, when it came time for children to choose how they wanted to present their learning, instead of choosing to create a multimedia presentation, their choice was to put on a performance for their families with songs and dances. Soucy counts this as evidence that her students are no longer viewing computers as the "best game in town," but one of many options for learning.
Fernan's school motto is "Spread Your Wings and Soar." Because of Soucy's ability to integrate technology use that enhances her student's social, character, emotional, and language development, the children are indeed soaring!