Everywhere you look, Hains pupils are using some sort of electronic device. Rooms are full of blinking screens and computers. Each classroom is a hive of activity as pupils focus carefully on handling tablets and phones.
In one room, pupils run a science experiment involving eggs dropped in vinegar, using laptops to post their hypotheses to a collective smart board. In another class, pupils work with cardboard, tape and marbles to build model water slides, basing their designs on pictures of water parks online.
A small group of girls gathers around second-grade teacher Johnie Burch, using Google Maps to plan the best route to summer vacation spots.
“I want to go to Panama City in Florida,” one of the girls said.
Within a few seconds, she plans a route on her Nook. She looks a bit disappointed when she reads the distance between her home and her goal.
“Oh,” she said. “I thought it was much closer than that.”
It’s a brief geography class for the digital age.
After a year of embracing a tech-heavy strategy to enhance children’s education, the effect on the school’s culture is obvious as the school year ends.
Hains was the first elementary school to be built in Richmond County with wireless Internet capability throughout the building, funded by Augusta’s third special purpose local option sales tax. The school is also at the forefront of the Bring Your Own Technology initiative, not only allowing children to use their own phones and computers in the classroom but also using Title 1 funding to buy electronics for student use.
Working with teachers and parents to create parameters for technology use in the classroom, Hains’ administrators put together a Bring Your Own Technology policy for students in August 2013. The result, Principal Emily Painter said, was an educational style much more inclusive than traditional methods.
“It definitely helps them for middle school, but it’s more than that,” Painter said. “This way, we can tailor lessons to each student’s strengths. Using the devices in the classroom allows us to change the style of teaching just that quickly. If you are using the old lecturing style of teaching, anyone that can’t follow that will be left behind. But now we can customize activities for every student’s learning ability.”
Ask the Hains teachers huddling over the devices with pupils on the last day of school, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
“It’s easy for them. They teach me things all the time,” Burch said. “They caught onto using the technology here like crazy. It’s like they were born to do it. At first I was scared about how the BYOT would affect teachers and my classes. But now I see it as a great way to build relationships with your students. I learn right alongside them.”
The combination of a fully wireless school and the Bring Your Own Technology measures will bring skills they will use after they leave Hains, Painter said.
“They are so much more prepared for the digital world now,” Painter said. “It’s authentic. They aren’t being told how to do research. They can get to do it on their own. That’s going to put them so much further along in life.”