RISD staying on top of technology trends

I was a senior in high school in 1985 when the first computerrelated course was introduced into the Rockdale ISD curriculum.

“Computer Flow Charts” was a class in which we laboriously drew out computer commands with a pencil on graph paper. There wasn’t any actual computer work that I remember.

That boring work turned me off to computers until I began working on a MacPlus at my first newspaper job four years later. (The smart kids in class continued studying computers and now work at NASA and IBM.)

Today, my third- and first-graders are more plugged in to the outside world than I ever dreamed of in those days. Between video games, Youtube and the internet sites we allow them to visit, they are aware that there is a big world out there, and they are learning to navigate this digital landscape.

Rockdale ISD is doing some impressive things to prepare our kids for this brave, new 21st Century. After trying to prohibit the ubiquitous cell phones from the students, the district now accepts them and is finding ways to use them in the classroom. (It helps that some phones even have graphing calculators built in.)

Dr. Howell Wright, who took the reins at superintendent not quite t wo years ago, has an impressive knack for staying on top of tech trends, noticed that the prohibition on phones wasn’t working.

“These kids are plugged-in before and after school and they were having to ‘power down’ when they came on campus,” Dr. Wright said. In a world where kids are constantly connected, it’s good that the vision to use that connectivity in the classroom is there.

The district is trying to train our children for jobs that, in all likelihood, don’t even exist yet. No one can peer into the future and see what the next hot job market would be.

Just 20 years ago, who would have thought the internet would have become as pervasive as it has? Who would have thought that palm-sized cell phones would be more sophisticated than the most advanced computer in 1990?

RISD’s Kathy Pesl, instructional technologist, said that “computer literacy” is a moving target. You and I have experienced this when we have bought a computer to find out its operating system has been upgraded by the next month.

“We still have the tried and true lessons,” she said, adding that teachers are still the most important thing in the classroom. “But when we can enhance lessons with technology, we do so.”

Parents are now seeing their elementar y students work at computer centers and are using “smart boards,” with touch-driven screen controls. Students at the intermediate campus will begin podcasting. iPods are being worked into lessons at the junior high. And high schoolers use all sorts of technology to work on “project-based” learning.

Pesl said every age has dealt w ith changes in technolog y, whether it is with an abacus, a slide rule, a flow chart, or a laptop computer. And it’s easy to see how the new Apple iPads could be used in the classroom.

“To the victors go the spoils,” the old saying goes. But the victors competing for the good jobs of the future will be those who are well-informed and up on technology.

There is no way to envision what the world of technology will look like when my young sons have children. But I’m glad that the children in RISD will be as prepared as those in more urban school districts.

“Technology is not a panacea for every problem, but it is a tool we can use,” Dr. Wright said.

Those of us raising the next generation of scientists, computer programmers, or even journalists here in little ol’ Rockdale appreciate these efforts to keep our kids up to speed.

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2010-04-08 digital edition

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