Tech Fest: Rhinelander teachers focus on 21st Century learning
“The more I can get the kids using the technology, and teaching them how to use it right, the more they are engaged in the classroom.”
-Kay Coates, RHS biology and anatomy instructor
By Eileen Persike
Kay Coates is a biology and anatomy teacher at Rhinelander High School. With two decades of experience under her belt, she is constantly learning, striving to keep up with students and the ever-increasing pace of technology.
“When I first started teaching, I had my blue lesson plan book and grade book that’s red, papers and ditto machine,” Coates recalled. “Twenty years ago you had two or three options, the film strips and overhead projectors where now you have hundreds of different opportunities and tools.”
Helping instructors like Coates keep up with the times are events like last week’s second annual Tech Fest, held at James Williams Middle School. Nearly 100 teachers and support staff spent part of the week focusing on 21st century learning and the “Four C’s” which include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Instructional Technology Coordinator Heidi Catlin said they added several more “C’s” to the list, such as classrooms, colleagues, communities and citizenship, and came up with 40 class sessions, all designed and presented by School District of Rhinelander staff.
“We have fabulous educators and we have so many people who each have their own expertise so we tapped into that,” Catlin said. “They have designed their sessions and prepared them and presented them. It took some of them out of their comfort zone a little, getting up in front of their peers but the sessions have been very well received.”
According to Catlin, the goal of the Tech Fest is to look at how technology can be used to support district initiatives and learning. Tina Vannatter presented a class called ‘Apptastic’ last year and updated it for this year’s Tech Fest. The Crescent Elementary School teacher said she jumped in with both feet last year, when they first had ipads to learn how to go about creating with her first graders.
“They can do so much more than we realize and at an earlier age,” Vannatter said of the students. “The kids that do have the access (to electronics) are so thrilled to share what they know with the rest of the class; it gives them the opportunity to be the teacher.”
At the high school, it’s often the kids who push the teachers to check out the latest apps. For biology and anatomy classes, Coates says students have found dissection and surgery apps that can be used in class.
“The more I can get the kids using the technology, and teaching them how to use it right, the more they are engaged in the classroom and looking for the resources that help to learn the information that they need to,” she said. “The kids coming in nowadays, their lives are technology. They see it all the time, so I have to find ways in order to teach them and show them how to use that technology properly and how it can benefit them versus just tweeting and facebooking and the apps that they use.”
But technology is not just for the students. One topic covered with the staff was how to use social media as a professional development tool.
“How can we use Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Pinterest in a professional development world,” Heidi Catlin explained. “We can connect with experts and colleagues from around the world and learn from them. Also, how do you connect via Skype and Hangouts; what are the rules, and how do you do that?”
All students at Rhinelander High School this fall will have access to a Chrome Book; a powerful tool to augment learning. That fact underscores the importance of teachers sorting through the limitless amount of resources available, figuring out what apps to use and how they work, and adapting them to achieve learning objectives.
“That’s the world we live in today,” Coates said with a laugh. “Things change so quickly; we just start to get comfortable and then it changes. It just never stops!”