GREENFIELD — They marched into the junior high armed with iPads and laptops.
The course lineup for two days of digital training listed all the usual heavy-hitters — social media strategies, educational apps, website offerings — but the bottom line was simple: find whatever means necessary to keep students engaged.
More than 400 educators from central Indiana, including more than 200 from Greenfield-Central schools, gathered at Greenfield Central Junior High Thursday and Friday to discover new ways to incorporate technology in their classrooms.
The message speakers sent was clear: technology has changed student’s expectations of their education, and using it in the classroom is the best way to keep them interested in what they’re learning.
Greenfield-Central Schools opted to host the regional conference as the district expands its digital learning initiatives, Superintendent Harold Olin said.
At the high school, students were equipped with take-home laptops last August, and the school district is preparing to put laptops in the hands of junior high students next year.
This week’s AppleMania conference is one of more than a dozen e-learning conferences being hosted across the state this summer as more schools move to implement technology in classrooms.
This week’s conference offered dozens of sessions on technology programs and apps teachers can use in the classroom to keep students engaged. The sessions focused on MacBooks, iPads and Google apps useful in education.
One session introduced teachers to Google Drawings, which allows users to work simultaneously to create maps, charts and other diagrams, like having a dozen artists using the same canvas at once and watching changes in real time.
Another focused on flipped classrooms, a concept that encourages teachers to have students watch short video lectures at home as part of homework to give more time in the classroom for working in small groups, having discussions and working on projects using digital media.
A lesson on Google Expeditions showed teachers how they can take students to far away places, such as countries they’re studying, through a program that uses 360-degree photographs for an immersive experience.
Maxwell Intermediate fourth-grade teacher Lindsey Hall said that was one of the sessions she really enjoyed.
Using the program is a hands-on way teachers can take students to the places they’re learning about, she said.
On Friday morning, teachers were greeted by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who told educators her office has prioritized e-learning and technology in classrooms as they recognize the way it empowers students.
She told teachers when she travels to schools across the state, she sees that students and teachers are “totally engaged” when they’re using digital learning initiatives for lessons.
“Technology is never going to go backward,” she said, “… so we have to embrace it; we have to make sure we’re integrating it and using it to the best of our ability,” she said.
Attending the conference wasn’t mandatory for Greenfield-Central teachers; those in attendance gave up the first few days of their summer to learn more about technology.
The two days they spent in the classroom as learners was worth it, Hall said, especially as digital initiatives expand at Greenfield-Central.
“I want to get better at using technology more in the classroom,” she said. “This is what our kids are interested in.”