Using new technology connects students with each other and the world, but it is best put to use in the classroom when it supports the learning objective, according to a presenter at the Connected Educator Technology Symposium held last week at Wisconsin Dells High School.

Shirley Galstad-Roh of the Onalaska School District and Tim Nielsen from the School District of Holmen, led a class of 17 educators at the three-day seminar. They were teaching on how to use iPads in pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade classes.

Galstad-Roh has been an early childhood teacher for 31 years.

“I believe that technology is an effective tool for helping to close the achievement gap for students,” she said. “Technology started out as tape recorders, overheads, those kinds of things that kids were using. And of course every year it’s newer, and it connects children in our local schools and has that whole global sense,” she said.

She said she asks teachers if technology improves learning, but said the answer to the question is actually that it doesn’t.

“Technology is just part of the delivery system. It’s who’s using the technology and the objective behind it (that matters),” Galstad-Roh said.

She gave an example of how children in early childhood classes need “manipulatives” or objects to use when studying grouping and counting.

“Those are the foundations for that, and so technology supports that after children have that baseline information.”

She also said it is a challenge for teachers to “differentiate,” but they need to reach all children no matter what their background knowledge is, whether they are English language learners, high performance learners or children at grade level, she said.

It seems like children are using the newest forms of technology at earlier and earlier ages as Nielsen said he knows of parents who introduce iPads to children as young as 2 or 3 years old.

It needs to be balanced with social interaction, he said.

Galstad-Roh and Nielsen are teaching about new classroom technology in light of the Common Core State Standards for curriculum that most states are adopting. Galstad-Roh said the standards were developed after higher education institutions said too many students coming to them needed remedial classes.

Galstad-Roh said familiarity with technology doesn’t do much for people if they don’t have the skills of writing a research paper and knowledge of sentence structure, critical thinking skills and reading.

Nielsen said a divide still exists in how elementary, high school and colleges provide content, and Galstad-Roh said colleges and universities are evaluating how they deliver their instruction, too.

Nielsen said one of the objectives in education is to enable students to deliver their content through new technology, too. To convey ideas in a “more meaningful, up-to-date manner,” he said.

Galstad-Roh said students won’t lose their human interaction with new technology. It’s not all or nothing, she said.

Technology supports global connections, social skills and reading and sharing, she said.

“It moves children from developmentally being the whole pie. Kids who are small developmentally think, I am the whole world. And we need to move them developmentally to say nah, you’re just one little piece of the pie. You’re not the whole pie. Technology can kind of help them understand that better,” she said.

Trevor Ruff, a kindergarten teacher at Lake Delton Elementary School, said he will be using an iPad in his classroom next year.

“I guess I’m really excited at just some of the changes that are happening in the Dells and some of the districts that were represented at the symposium. I think the technology that’s coming available to the really just going to transform the way educators are able to meet the needs of children in the classroom,” he said.

The iPad will probably take the place of some older ways of teaching, he said, but not be a complete change right away.

Now children practice fine motor skills by tracing the shapes of letters in sand or shaving cream, Ruff said.

“Now you have that on the iPad. I don’t know if that necessarily replaces that. I can see in many cases it would, and I think it’s kind of the technology and maybe even our mind set is kind of moving to where it will eventually take over those different things,” he said.

One down side to replacing the other learning experiences is you’d have to have an iPad for every student in class, he added.

His students would also be able to make stories with the iPad by combining photos with a narrative, he said.

And teachers will be able to have their own apps made for the iPad. Ruff said already people make apps for teachers who order them.

It seems like there are so many possibilities with the iPad that the limit is whatever one envisions doing with it, Ruff said.

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