Alexia Forhan has 10 tablets in her science classroom at Assabet Valley Vocational High School in Marlborough, Mass.
Because this is a Verizon Innovative Learning School, she and the seven other science teachers received intensive training in the best uses of technology in instruction. And now tablets are as much a part of science lab as beakers and Bunsen burners.
When students run a lab experiment in Forhan’s classroom, they do more than record the results in a notebook. They draw cartoons on their tablets explaining what happened, using visual thinking to show they understand. Next, using the tablets’ microphones, they record their explanations of the experiments, incorporating critical thinking and public speaking.
They work at their own pace. They help each other.
Forhan was the pioneer who brought technology into Assabet. A couple of years ago, she chanced upon a fight between two students in the hallway. She knew they were on the brink of physical violence. But before she could step in, one student threatened to take the other student’s cell phone and “crush it.” The student retreated immediately.
Alexia was stunned. That cell phone was the student’s life. She thought, “what if that love of mobile technology could be combined with teaching and learning?”
She was delighted when Assabet became a VILS school in the 2012-13 school year.
In one recent science class, a student scanned a QR barcode with a QR app to review a lesson on DNA. The students themselves had designed and developed the review.
Everything that students worked on, Forhan said, reinforced what they were learning. There was no rote learning or memorization.
One app, called Educreations, displayed students’ work on a smart board at the front of the class so they could instantly see each other’s work. “We’re doing more hands-on, technology-based lessons that involve problem-solving,” Forhan said. “We get kids to think about what they’re doing, step by step.”
Forhan believes the switch to technology has made her a better teacher. “You want an educator who keeps abreast of current trends and is aware of what the future holds,” she said. “These kids will be entering a world where they’ll need to problem-solve and collaborate.”
The VILS program has “helped us as a department to rethink the way we teach and the way students learn,” Forhan said, “and it has added a spark, a sort of inspiration, to our day-to-day activities.”
Last year, for the first time, not a single student failed one of Forhan’s science classes.