Enhancing learning through technology

Published 10:28 am Friday, June 29, 2018

By Lorenzo Salinas



Technology and teaching go hand in hand — whether to enhance what’s in the classroom or simply to make a teaching model easier for a student to understand.

The board of trustees for Port Arthur Independent School District voted Thursday on the approval of Lenovo N23 Chromebooks for the district’s secondary campuses, an initiative that has already seen implementation in its elementary and middle schools.

Kenneth Daigre, instructional technology supervisor, said the notebooks are part of the important technological shift going on in classes across the country, one that especially uses Chromebooks.


A book for every kid — or for every class

“The plan is one-on-one, where every student gets one,” Daigre said. “However, that becomes difficult when we’re talking about a 5A or 6A district.”

Port Arthur Memorial High is classified as a 5A high school, with enrollment between 1,060 and 2,099 students.

“Funding becomes a problem with (that) many students,” Daigre said. “That’s a lot of money. So, my goal is to get every classroom its own cart of Chromebooks.”

Daigre said currently he and staff are very close toward reaching that goal; he estimated that currently there is a cart of Chromebooks for every two to three classrooms.

“In elementary, we’re closer to one cart per classroom,” he said. “Ultimately, our goal is to get a device in every student’s hand.”

This initiative should help grades 6 through 12 get easy access to the internet notebook.


Different apps for different classes

There are several utilities teachers could use both in and out of the classroom with the Chromebooks. Daigre said the biggest one was Google Classroom, a free web service for digitally creating and maintaining school assignments.

“It’s a way to give us assignments and information on a digital scale for students,” Daigre said. “If students have a device at home, either a computer or tablet, those students would be able to get their homework assignments, notes, classroom work and be able to turn in assignments.”

Daigre said emerging technologies like Chromebooks have played an important step in pushing forward the educational goals of PAISD.

“I have seen it change the way in which the district fills the gaps,” he said. “As teachers teach the new generation of students, I think this technology gives my teachers more confidence to fill the gaps, (which) is relating to the students.

“They could use it as a primer to connect with students and to get them more engaged with education.”


Keeping up with the standard

PAISD first introduced Chromebooks two to three years ago when their introduction to other school districts was still in its infancy.

“When they first hit the scene, they were still kind of experimental,” Daigre said. “We came in kind of early in the game, but we looked at all the back end stuff to work out…

“Now we’re trying to use it in an advanced form.”

Daigre highlighted the spot where PAISD is at in relation to Texas state guidelines.

“We’re right where we need to be where Texas education wants us with regard to technology,” Daigre said.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness — or STAAR — has online tutorials, practice tests and different assessments available through its online platform.

Daigre said the STAAR Online Testing Platform is accessible through Chromebooks, which serve as yet another avenue of educational readiness available to Port Arthur students.


Positive feedback

Daigre said the feedback from teachers and students have been positive.

“They’ve integrated it into their lesson plans, into their education tools for the classroom,” Daigre said. “The fact that it all connects together is the best measure that teachers like the new technology.”

As part of his job working hand in hand with the instructors from the district, Daigre said he does his homework whenever a new piece of technology is unveiled for schools.

“With every piece of advanced technology that we use, we don’t just jump in without looking. I do my research; I look at what areas our students need help in,” Daigre said.

“Then I say let’s get technology that helps those areas… Something that doesn’t take over but gives teachers the extra tools and confidence to do what they need to do.”

Daigre said he meets with educators a lot in order to determine what they need and what they want for their classroom instruction.


Hands-on instruction

“Guided instruction is when you’re guiding somebody along with what you want them to see,” Daigre said. “However, in hands-on instruction, when you turn that table they’re working on into a TV, we become very hands on with what we teach.”

Daigre emphasized what he termed “hands-on technology.”

“When I bring in robotics, I make sure it’s hands-on instruction,” he said.

“Guided instruction is still good; but if a teacher can traditionally teach the concepts and take those students and engage them on a higher level of learning with technology it becomes the best of both worlds. That can keep them up to date for the modern day.”

Daigre pointed to the success of children’s robots Dash and Dot, as put out by Wonder Workshop. The robots feature responsive AI, programming instruction and games for all ages.

“They teach advanced mathematical concepts on a platform easy to understand,” Daigre said. “It helps them understand those advanced skills with educational games.”

Teaching and technology would seem to go hand in hand with Daigre’s vision for PAISD.

“We try to combine the two in a way so as not to lose the basic skills that we teach through this wonderful age of technology.”

He emphasized bringing in technology not to replace the good work teachers do but rather to enhance it.

“We don’t want to replace; we want to enhance.”