EL PASO — The funny thing about a classroom is that it hardly ever changes. Walking into an elementary school classroom today is like walking into one 20 years ago. The teachers still have their desk in front, the kids’ desks facing it, and the walls are covered in the student art.
So imagine my surprise when I walked into Herman Seufert’s fifth grade class classroom. Instead of the students’ desks all pointed towards the teacher’s larger desk, the desks were round tables shared by multiple students. Seufert’s desk was on the side, which didn’t matter since he hardly sat down while the class was going on. But the most intriguing aspect of this classroom was the amount of technology.
I remember when I was in the fifth grade five old Apple Macintoshes were the only computers in my classroom. I’m not quite sure what they were really for, but we used to play Oregon Trail on them. So my first adventure into computing was a floppy disk version of a game I could not even save, making it that much more important to get a head start on the trail. So when I walk into Seufert’s class at Green Elementary School in West El Paso and see a wall full of computers, an in-focus machine, and a nice new smart board right in the middle of the room you can imagine the impact it had on me. This is technology I rarely encounter, even in a college classroom.
The high-tech gear is not just for show. Students use the computers to post blogs, create their own photo slideshows, and even talk to classes in East Texas. The blogs range from a private journal of thoughts to homework assignments. Everything the students do is eventually posted on a wiki page so that the world can see it.
“Technology is only going to get more prevalent in the world,” Seufert said. “It’s important that we begin to get these kids familiar with this stuff.”
Since technology constantly changes, kids should start off early. The Internet as we know it has only been around for about 20 years. In that time it has grown from a few connected computers into the behemoth it is today and it shows no sign of slowing down. So, the problem faced by most teachers today may not be how to get kids on computers, but how to keep them off the computer. “To me it is easy to put this into any other classroom,” Seufert said. “It is just a different type of creative output for these kids, a new way to interact with their learning.”
Using technology in the classroom is not just about projecting a power point lesson according to school Technology Coordinator Brian Grenier said. “The kids need to engage with the technology.” Both Seufert and Grenier believe that we are not too far from a class where each student has a computer. In fact, the technology guys are already experimenting with this possibility. “Power is a big problem when it comes to laptops,” Grenier said. “But we are looking into getting net books, which have much longer battery life but not as much memory, into the classroom.”
And engaging may be an understatement. In fact, everything done on the computers is added to what must be done for these kids to pass their standardized test. Seufert boasts 100 percent success on the TAKS for his classroom over the past few years. Green Elementary earned an exemplary rating on the test this past year. All of his students are expected to do book work before they are able to expand their learning with technology. It is a way to make the class fun.
“It makes it fun for them and for me,” Seufert said. “Neither of us wants to do book work all the time.”
And fun seems to be the key word. Of the students I talked to in Seufert’s class, all of them said the word fun more than once.
“It’s more interesting and a lot of fun,” Fifth grader Alexia Lopez said.
“I like it because we use our creativity during class,” Anna M. said. “It’s fun.”
“We all work hard so that we can use it once a week,” William Dixon said. “We just have fun doing it.”
So what keeps many teachers from introducing technology into their classroom? Seufert says that it makes life harder on the teacher to find creative ways in which to bring technology into the class. Grenier echoes his point, while also pointing out that some teachers may be afraid of the technology. “Teachers need to move out of their comfort zone and forget that the lesson may fail,” Grenier said. “Of course it may fail. Teachers need to stop worrying that their students will know more than them and just take small steps and begin to implement the technology.”
“We have a few good teachers here who use technology very well, and some who are very scared of it,” Green Principal Cecilia Stephens said. “Some will not even open e-mails I send out.”
The other problem is money. Grenier explained that the district tries to trade out computers every five years. Along with that they are trying to give each teacher a laptop to take home, a feat currently accomplished at both the elementary and middle school level. Still, the district is struggling to get newer and better computers into the classroom.
“I set aside $15,000 a year for technology,” Stephens said. “I wish we had more funding to get more computers. I hope every year for more funding from the state.”
And until that funding gets to the schools, students will have to rely on what they have now; which in Mr. Seufert’s class may not be too bad. Fifth-grader Hannah Bombach said it was important that she was able to keep up with the latest technology. She even enjoyed the fact that they would soon be able to use new iPod touches to play a song with music applications “Besides basic computer skills, I can create a photo story, slide show, power point, class blog, wiki page, shoot video, edit video, add credits and do a podcast,” Bombach said.
It seemed that her list could have gone on and on and I soon realized that this 10 year old can do much more on the computer than even I, a 21 year old college student, can. I realize that as I hand this story off to someone else to post for me, I probably could have handed it to Hannah, William, Alexia, Anna, or any other fifth grader.
To see the students blog and wiki page please visit: