Private Schools in Charlotte

The Impact of Technology in the Classroom

By Angela Lindsay

Backpack? Calculator? Highlighters? Check. Once upon a time, these were the types of basic items that comprised a typical back-to-school classroom checklist. Now, students must also have devices such as Chromebooks and USB adapters, access to certain platforms and various applications.

Technology is rapidly changing today’s classroom environment and transforming how students learn going forward Here, we take a look at how local private and independent schools are finding creative ways to incorporate various technological advancements into their daily agendas and curriculum.

According to a 2023 report, 90 percent of K-12 schools in the U.S. have at least one computer for every five students, and 98 percent of American classrooms now have internet access.

“We have a hybrid model, that is, a mix of digital and traditional modes,” said Jay Hancock, head of school at Carmel Christian School. “We desire to pair the best practices and established methods while integrating use and discernment of new methods as they emerge,” he said. Paper planners are not required in high school, and Google classroom is the go-to resource for middle and high school students, he added.

At Providence Day School, students are assigned individual iPads starting in 4th grade while classroom sets of iPads are available for students in Pre-K to third grade.

Teachers direct the use of the iPads and use Google Workspace for Education for email, calendar, file creation and management, and websites, explained Matt Scully, director of digital integration and innovation at Providence Day School. Students in grades 6-12 use the iPads daily for classwork as required, he added.

Private and independent schools are adjusting to remain on par with the digital reality into which today’s young people have been born. The Fletcher School has been an Apple Distinguished School since 2015 and at the forefront of the digital revolution over the past 10 years, said Heather Ramsey, Ed.D., director of educational technology at The Fletcher School.

“Because our school serves students with learning differences, we utilize technology to help students accommodate their specialized learning needs. Our students are taught and encouraged to use speech recognition and voice-to-text features to support their reading and writing skills,” she said.

Adopting a K-12 Digital Literacy and Citizenship Program has enhanced higher-order thinking and skills in the classroom at Fletcher, said Ramsey. “Digital citizenship helps users understand how to use technology appropriately and includes the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use. The Fletcher School’s digital citizenship curriculum is infused in all classes and is a way to help prepare students for our technology-rich society.”

Although Charlotte Preparatory School’s classrooms and its computer lab are equipped with laptops and computers, students in grades 3-8 bring their own devices to school each day.

“While all our teaching is still conducted between teacher and student, we understand that technology is an inevitable part of our students’ lives, and when harnessed appropriately, it can be a powerful tool,” said George Marshall, Charlotte Preparatory School’s director of marketing and communications. “For example, recently, while learning about coding and robotics, our fourth graders designed a robot that could sort trash from recycling.”

Charlotte Christian School’s competition VEX robotics teams in their lower, middle and upper schools demonstrate hands-on STEM skills in a collaborative, competitive environment as they use the engineering process to problem-solve and apply STEM principles to build a robot and compete in VEX robotics competitions, according to Laura Goodyear, director of communications at Charlotte Christian School. Students use the VEX Code IQ app on the iPad devices or VEX VRC to independently write, test and download programs to their robot. Over the past decade more than 12 robotics teams from all three school divisions have advanced to world robotics competitions.

To advance the faculty and program support and to continue to build expertise at Charlotte Christian, all three of their technology facilitators have completed the Apple Learning Coach program.

“We use several learning management systems to aggregate and share content and material with students [such as] Google Classroom [and] Seesaw,” said Stephanie Griffin, assistant head of school for academics at Trinity Episcopal School.

Their students and teachers are “well versed” in the Google Suite. In the lower school, students are using Raz Kids, Splash, Reflex, VR headsets and other content-based tools for learning, while middle school students are podcasting, recording videos on Flip, designing Co-Spaces for virtual reality, using Canva, and learning from Newsela.

“Teachers are constantly trying and piloting new digital tools to enhance the student experience,” Griffin said.

There are pros and cons to the using technology in classrooms. Increased digital creativity, preparation and readiness for career, increased resources and information, and increased collaboration are some of the advantages that Hancock identifies for Carmel Christian students. However, one of the most common disadvantages of using technology in the classroom across the board is student distraction.

“While there are limits to which apps are accessible on school-issued devices, it’s still easy for students to get distracted. Just as good classroom management kept students engaged and on task before the advent of technology, the same is true today,” said Shannon Drosky, director of marketing and communications at Charlotte Country Day School.

Other cons include: additional screen time contributing to mental health issues, a decrease in student attention span, potential addiction when used without boundaries, increase in desired instant gratification, altered behavior when used without boundaries (irritability), and difficulty reaching consistency between grades and classes due to teacher comfort levels, added Hancock.

For Fletcher’s students and teachers, like other schools, the pros do outweigh the cons.

“Many of our middle and upper school students have [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], and the biggest con is digital distractions during class. However, we do focus on executive functioning skills to help students learn to balance these distractions,” Ramsey shared.

“The pros of using technology in the classroom include increasing student engagement, enabling our teachers to modify and provide accommodations for students struggling with various subjects, accessing a wealth of information and online resources, and helping students prepare for the future by learning skills like collaboration and problem-solving.”

Because technology is ever-changing and sometimes intimidating, not only might students face a significant learning curve, teachers may also have a difficult time adapting to new tools such as video lessons.

“As we learned during remote learning, students and teachers are often learning together, and the teacher is modeling for students that mistakes are OK and that lifelong learning is a process,” said Drosky.

Introducing technology for technology’s sake adds no value if it doesn’t enhance and deepen the existing curriculum, Drosky said. “Building in purposeful transitions, like using iPads then Surfaces, migrating from Google Docs to Office365, mirror the experiences our students will face as they move through college and the workforce. The focus should be on transferable skills rather than the technology itself.”

Scully agrees that “just using a tech tool will not increase engagement.” Providence Day’s approach is to leverage all tools and methods that further its mission of inspiring a passion for learning. Examples range from their youngest students moving from learning center to learning center — developing the skills to self-regulate and stay on task — to their seniors conducting research and designing labs. 

“While we have not abandoned any modes of teaching, our faculty are committed to crafting and creating learning experiences based on both the art and science of teaching and learning. It is our goal to ensure that students develop the proficiencies and competencies necessary to thrive, which in part means a healthy relationship with technological tools,” said Scully.

Starting in kindergarten, students at Charlotte Preparatory School take a technology class once a week. Their goal, said Marshall, is to teach students to use technology safely and responsibly.

“We teach them to research essential questions and then think critically about the information they are finding and reading online,” Marshall said. “We teach them how to stay safe online, how to construct emails appropriately, and talk to them about setting boundaries for themselves when using their devices for personal entertainment — all of this through an age-appropriate and child-centered lens,” he said.

Perhaps at no other time in recent history has teaching with technology been more critical than during the pandemic when students and teachers found themselves shifting to a new classroom normal. 

“Given our existing one-on-one technology platforms, Country Day was well-poised to continue delivering a quality education to students during remote and hybrid learning,” said Drosky. “Teachers were quick to be even more creative using existing tools. Some of those innovations have been adopted beyond the days of remote learning.”

For example, the Upper School modern and classical language teachers at Charlotte Country Day School leaned into tools like Flip, a Microsoft video discussion app, while teaching students remotely. It was so effective that Drosky said they continued to use it.

“Within a secure online space, the teacher makes a video with instructions and a prompt. Students, in turn, respond with their own videos,” she explained. “The process allows students to build confidence and present their best selves via video before doing live presentations for oral mid-terms and major presentations. Additionally, both students and teachers can easily access past recordings to assess progress in fluency.”

Students gained a level of confidence with online interactions at Providence Day during the pandemic that empowered them to reach content with learners and teachers across the globe, said Scully. Their social entrepreneurship course, for instance, allowed students to meet with entrepreneurs via video conference as well as in person. Students have been connected with everyone from Mark Cuban to local business owners, he added.

Now that artificial intelligence (AI) is greatly increasing its presence in our society, it has inevitably become a part of the learning process. The key is to establish parameters, use it responsibly, and avoid academic impropriety such as plagiarism.

“Artificial intelligence has been here. Each time you ask Siri, Alexa or Google, you are using AI,” said Trinity Episcopal School’s head of school, Imana Sherrill. “I don’t want our teachers to be afraid of the technology — our students certainly are not. If it can be used to enhance the educational experience and work for our teachers, then we should use it.”

Sherrill said that one example is using AI to generate quick writing prompts or creating specific equations to test for understanding. Scully said an English teacher, for example, could ask students to have ChatGPT generate seven thesis statements regarding Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and then have students evaluate the merits of these thesis statements.

Sherrill added, “All ‘new’ technology can seem intimidating at first; however, with a little practice and education, you can find ways to use it to your advantage while also keeping students safe and academic integrity in place.”