Northern San Joaquin Valley, Sierra teacher learn the latest about educational technology

jnsbranti@modbee.comFebruary 22, 2014 

More than 800 teachers spent Saturday learning about the latest innovations in educational technology during a daylong conference at Gregori High School.

From social media platforms and digital tools to iPad applications and Chromebook curriculum, dozens of tech topics were explored in classroom workshops.

Keeping up with technology “is a huge challenge” for schools, assured Susan Bratset, assistant principal at Toyon Middle School in Calaveras County. She was among those from throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Sierra foothills attending the conference in Modesto.

“The biggest issue for teachers is learning how to use what’s new,” Bratset said. “There’s just so much out there, and the technology is growing so fast.”

Jessie Ceja, coordinator for education services at Ceres Unified School District, said not only is there an overwhelming number of new educational products on the market, but they’re very expensive.

“So many of our schools are making multimillion-dollar investments in these things,” Ceja said. “It’s important to not let the technology drive what we’re doing as a school district.”

To help teachers effectively use the latest technologies to accomplish their educational goals, the conference offered a lot of advice about what works best.

Kathy Briggs, Riverbank Unified School District’s instructional coach for technology, was among the presenters. Her session focused on helping elementary school teachers choose from the many educational applications available for Apple iPads, which many schools use as teaching tools.

“Most of these apps are free,” Briggs said, describing the two-page list of applications she distributed. Her compilation included apps to teach spelling, reading, writing, math, science and fine arts.

While iPads are available in many schools, Briggs said her district is among those opting for HP Chromebooks because they are less expensive, include keyboards and are approved for taking state-mandated tests.

But it’s the Apple tablets that Teri Rodriquez has her eye on. She has applied for a grant to get iPads for her second-grade students at Fairview Elementary in Modesto.

“Kids like technology. They’re quick to learn it. It’s us adults who are behind, so we just have to dive into it – even if we make mistakes along the way,” said Rodriquez, who attended Briggs’ session. “Kids are not scared (of trying new technologies), unlike many grown-ups, who are afraid they’ll break something.”

During her 28 years of teaching, Nadine Silva has had to learn many new technologies: “I had a chalkboard when I started. That’s how long I’ve been teaching.”

Silva is an English teacher at Savage Middle School in Modesto’s Sylvan Union School District, and she’s preparing now for more technological changes.

“Our district wants iPads for every student,” Silva explained. That effort started with providing iPads for all of this year’s sixth-graders.

Teachers at other Modesto schools also are adjusting to the new push toward tablet computers.

“I just got my iPad last week. I’m still figuring things out,” said Daedre Calderson, a fifth-grade teacher at Modesto’s Garrison Elementary. “There’s so much out there you can use it for, involving every aspect of the classroom.”

Laura Lockwood, a sixth-grade teacher at Everett Elementary in Modesto, also is excited about the shift to iPads. But, she said, her school is just getting started.

“We don’t have enough for the students yet,” Lockwood said. “We just got them for the teachers.”

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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