— Marti Sievek took an informal technology poll in a room full of third- through fifth-grade teachers Wednesday morning at Minnesota State University.
How many of them use Facebook in the classroom? How many are familiar with Google Docs? How about spreadsheets? How many have created online learning environments they use as a teaching tool?
“I know nothing about wikis, and Google Sites is new to me,” said Mankato teacher Bri Miller, surrounded by a few nodding allies.
But the lack of raised hands to Sievek’s questions was exactly why all of them were there for his breakout session during the first Technology Summit, a collaborative effort planned by Mankato, St. Peter and Waseca school districts. The idea of the two-day conference, which continues today, is to explore technology resources that reinforce student engagement.
Tracy Brovold, Mankato online learning and technology integration specialist, said some teachers are afraid to use technology in the classroom because students, even elementary age, may be better versed in the tools than teachers are. That’s why it’s so important to keep up on these tools to reach students where they are, Brovold said.
A major initiative promoted at the summit was the “bring your own device movement,” the idea of allowing students to bring their own technology tools into the classroom — iPads, smart phones and laptops, among other things. Brovold said many teachers are skeptical because students can play games, instant message, Tweet or check Facebook fairly easily without teachers knowing.
But Brovold and other speakers at the conference pointed out that even before technology, students could find distractions, whether it be hiding comic books behind their textbooks or writing notes on paper to pass to friends.
Sievek is a proponent of students bringing their own devices, and as Mankato media technology coordinator, he was also big on hands-on learning for the teachers at his session, which focused on creating a student web page for use in the classroom.
After a few minutes of opening remarks, Sievek had all the teachers get signed into Google Sites, which is a free online tool to create web pages. Even the signing on posed a few issues, taking about five minutes for everybody to get the bugs worked out and reach the editing page.
“What all of you are experiencing right now is what you will experience when you first do this with students,” Sievek said with a laugh.
By the end of the session, however, the teachers working in groups had created pages and even embedded video.
The four facets the summit include: mobile learning, online learning, interactive white boards and web tools, Brovold said. Breakout sessions, mostly led by area teachers, are divided by grade: K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and high school.
A block of time Thursday will focus on how teachers can implement the lessons they have learned into their own classrooms.
“Really, our key to this is engaging students through the use of technology,” she said.
About 165 educators from 27 schools across the region are participating in the summit.