Contributed by Deborah L. Tarrant
The Tarrant Institute at the University of Vermont and Mater Christi School are embarking on an exciting journey. The kick-off for this endeavor was held in the Mater Christi library, and two things struck me as Rich and I were participating in this event. First, the excitement in the room was palpable, and second, as much as I love books, traditional school libraries now feel like a setting from another era.
The teachers at Mater Christi School in the middle grades will soon begin professional development through the Tarrant Institute. Through the Institute, they’ll learn new methods of teaching that involve one-to-one technology for the students and a completely different set of parameters for the teachers themselves. The days of having an instructor lecturing from the front of the room hour after hour, while students sit passively absorbing information are a thing of the past. Mater Christi is modeling a new paradigm for middle school students that involves interactive learning between students and teachers and also between students and their peers. Students will gather information from multiple sources (available on their electronic devices) and apply the information they glean to relevant situations and assignments in creative ways (animation, pod casts, videos, and skills I’m not even aware of) to showcase their proficiency with both the information and the tools at their disposal.
Along with the excitement in the room at this kick-off, where the Mater Christi participants included the Principal, the Assistant Principal, the IT Specialist, and several teachers, there was also a nervous energy. This is a big undertaking when you consider that parents and teachers will be ceding, to a degree, their role as the ultimate purveyors of knowledge. Young people have innate expertise with technology that often surpasses that of adults. But in a way, that’s the point. There’s a whole new world out there in terms of information and the way it gets accessed. Portable electronic devices offer students their own personal libraries wherever they go. It only makes sense to incorporate these devices into their learning experience.
The Tarrant Institute has had tremendous success to date with their middle school partners, and the parents of these middle-school students often share their thoughts with us. Across the board, the kids are more engaged with their school assignments and look forward to being in the classroom situation. Anecdotally, I’d like to share a message we received recently. The father of a sixth-grader at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville wrote:
“This year, the 6th graders received iPads, and I just wanted you to know how incredibly excited the kids are and how jazzed they are to use the technology in their education environment. …… On Sunday, we had a family meeting to discuss what was working well for the family and what wasn’t. My son says ‘let me set up an online survey so that we can collect the data in digital form.’ He set it up and sent it to my wife and I at our email accounts. Pretty cool stuff.”
Pretty cool stuff indeed!
Deborah L. Tarrant is the Vice President of the Tarrant Foundation. She serves as board liaison for the Foundation’s new Catholic Schools Initiative, which will invest $850,000 to support technology integration in area Catholic schools over the next four years.