Tushar, William, Daniel, and Harrison walk into the Maker Space in the Carriage House. The last bell of the academic day has rung. It's mud week, so there are no sports this afternoon, and these eighth-grade boys have signed up to do a bit of computer design. Svetlana Grinshpan, Middle School Technology Specialist, and Amy Carey, Middle School Science Teacher, are waiting for them. Carey asks, "So you want to do some Raspberry Pi stuff? Have you ever done it before?"
None of the boys have worked with Raspberry Pi, but Harrison offers, "I've done stuff with Scratch, but not this."
One whole wall of the Maker Space is taken over by the Gardening Elective group's seedling trays and grow lights. On the far wall are shelves with bins containing every crafty item imaginable, including pipe cleaners, glue sticks, felt, glitter, paint, markers, and of course, googly eyes. At one large table, Carey is finishing setting up the materials and projecting instructions for building with the Rasberry Pi computer kit. At the other large table, Grinshpan has set up the materials to make light-up greeting cards, just in case any of the boys want to take a break from their work with the computer.
The Maker Space exists as both a physical space and as an idea. As a physical space, it has a central location and currently holds a variety of tools, craft supplies, beads, electronics, a 3-D printer, sewing machines, and others. As an idea, "maker" creates endless opportunities for creativity and problem solving, and promotes Design Thinking Mindset for the entire school.
The Maker Space is one of the Technology Department's latest initiatives, and it fits into the larger context of the philosophy of technology in the classroom at the Middle School. Demetri Orlando, Director of Information Technology at BB&N, is clear about technology's role as a support for student learning in the classroom. Rather than technology as an end in itself (and a distraction of bells and whistles), Orlando says, "We want student technology to be available for seamless use whenever and wherever it advances teachers' instructional goals. Under the direction of a skilled teacher, technology tools greatly expand the repertoire of what students can be asked to do. It supports basic educational processes such as researching, writing, and communication."
Since the Middle School officially became a one-one (laptop) school in 2017, all students certainly enjoy an easier transition between work at school and work at home. Just as technology opens pathways to student discovery, it also opens pathways of connection between teachers and students. All teachers have a PowerSchool webpage for each of their classes. These web pages are a hub of communication for assignments, supporting materials, showcases of student work, student-to-student support, teacher feedback on student assignments, and more.
Grinshpan, who joined the Middle school faculty in 2009, has worked closely with every department. She has, in fact, helped nearly every individual teacher to see the possible ways technology can enhance their teaching and further their goals for their students. Her comfort with her role as Technology Specialist, natural curiosity about all subjects, love of students, and patience with teachers has made her an integral part of the Middle School teaching team. Bill Rogers, head of the Middle School history department, sees that her support has revolutionized the way they approach the history curriculum.
"Svetlana comes to nearly all our history meetings and has been responsible for probably three quarters of what we do with tech. Her ideas of how to extend and improve projects have been key to our work. I do not exaggerate when I say she is the most important change in our Middle School staff in 20 years! She has knowledge, creativity, communications, and dedication."
Indeed, the history department has made profound revisions to their pedagogy and finds that technology is now an integral tool to their teaching. Students benefit. Rogers lists some of the innovations the department has initiated with the help of Grinshpan: "First, technology has influenced curriculum design. Students now blog for our websites. They create virtual trips, websites, wikispaces, and newscasts. Second, technology has allowed more drafts and easy manipulation of essay teaching, both central to history courses. Third, it has allowed more in-class access to information and short video examples for enrichment. Fourth, it allows teachers to communicate and students to submit work when they are missing school. Fifth, it allows students access to the whole history section when they have questions at home. Sixth, we can project anything important instantly to the whole class." Sasha Bergman, ceramics teacher, also sees that technology enhances her teaching. "I meet almost weekly with Svetlana to continuously push the edges of what is possible for technology to contribute to my ceramics classroom. She seems to constantly have her hands and mind involved in new possible ideas that she brings to me to try out."
All departments benefit from Grinshpan's expertise and innovative contributions. She is always looking for new ways to engage faculty in their own professional development by introducing tools and workshops that increase teacher skills. "Demetri and I share the same philosophy," Grinshpan says. "The best uses of technology in education are when it amplifies a student centered, project-based, constructivist approach to learning. I am very excited about the technology related curricular work MS faculty have been doing over the last couple years. A few summers ago, a group of MS teachers participated in RISD's Art & Tech conference, and another group spent a week exploring the concept of design thinking at NUVU Innovation School in Cambridge. An interesting focus of the faculty's work has been exploring the new approach to learning known as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). It is an interdisciplinary method aimed at helping students develop vital transferrable skills and learning across subjects, through experimentation, trial and error, and creativity. I love the projects that come out of this interdisciplinary approach to learning because they exemplify that the world is complex and messy. Problems cannot always be solved through knowledge of chemistry or physics alone. Integrating coding, electronics, 3D modeling into Arts adds new dimensions to students' expression and understanding."
The use of technology in the classroom will remain integral for the foreseeable future, and the available tools are constantly evolving. Orlando is forward-thinking about next steps and next phases about how it can enhance student learning. He says, "A one-to-one learning environment levels the playing field for all of our students. The Middle School faculty has spent significant time thinking about how students should take best advantage of digital tools and resources while building a positive culture of use. The role of technology is still the same. Technology supports learning, but the availability and reliability has significantly increased, allowing for more sophisticated and fluid use of these tools."
Meanwhile in the Maker Space, the boys settle into their stools at the table. Carey shows them some of the materials and helps them brainstorm a plan. "This is an old monitor we've taken apart. Here's the converter. We'll need a joy stick. Look at the screen to see how they explain the wiring over there, and next steps." Grinshpan crosses the Maker Space to sit with the students in order to observe as they get to work and, if they need it, to lend a hand.
Tushar checks out the projected instructions. "I'd be into that."
Check out the below links for some examples of technology in the classroom in the Middle School: