Educators from throughout Orange County gathered recently at S.S. Seward Institute for a special presentation by Eric Sheninger, a nationally renowned expert on technology in the classroom.
Sheninger was the guest speaker at the Florida Union Free School District’s Nov. 7 Superintendent’s Conference Day. While students had the day off from school, their teachers, along with teachers from Chester, Goshen, Washingtonville, Warwick, Minisink, and several other area school districts, got a lesson in ways technology can be used to inspire their students and prepare them for the future.
The teachers filled the cafeteria at S.S. Seward Institute to hear Sheninger, a near-celebrity in education circles, share his insights. The author of several best-selling books and a popular blog, Sheninger’s Twitter feed was declared one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2014 by Time Magazine. As Principal at New Milford High School in New Milford, NJ, the school garnered national attention for the innovative practices he instituted.
Technology, Sheninger told the educators, is an invaluable tool that, if coupled with solid teaching methods, can transform the way students learn. When integrated properly, technology – laptops, smart phones, the Internet – ignites curiosity, inspires collaboration, and better prepares students for the modern workforce.
Sheninger, who began his career as a science teacher, said the days of lining students up in rows of desks facing a blackboard and a lecturing teacher are, or should be, over.
“Kids told me school was like a jail,” he said. “I changed because I knew we weren’t doing a good enough job. We can’t prepare kids the way we were prepared.”
At one point during the presentation Sheninger asked the teachers to design the classroom of their dreams. Working in groups, they sketched out their classrooms on large sheets of paper, designing rooms with big tables where students could work together, makerspaces and large digital screens. Some rooms had gardens, some had fish tanks. None, though, had rows of desks.
Investing in devices such as Chromebooks is just the first step, Sheninger told the educators. The introduction and use of technology must be “purposeful,” he said, with set goals, evaluation, assessment, and training.
“Pedagogy must come first. If you don’t get the instructional technique right, technology just speeds up the rate of failure,” he warned. Devices, he added, won’t ever replace talented, dedicated, teachers.
“All kids have greatness inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them discover it,” he said. “The answer isn’t technology. The answer is you.”