Has There Ever Been A Better Time To Be In 3rd Grade?

I have two kids:  my son is 9 years old and in third grade, and my daughter is 7 years old and in first grade. I remember when my son was born, people told me that I was entering the “busy years.” I didn’t know what they meant then but I do now. There is never a dull moment in our house and the majority of the activity centers around the kids and school.

They are a lot like other 7- and 9-year-olds (except for the fact that they are the most special kids ever, according to their biased dad).  In many ways, school for them is a lot like I remember it being for me.  What I liked most about third grade were my friends, and I think it’s the same for my son.  But third grade is very different for him in terms of how technology is used to drive student learning.

My son’s classroom has some standard technologies found in most schools around the U.S., including an interactive whiteboard and a computer lab. The kids are accustomed to interacting with technology, such as computers and gaming systems, and the whiteboard provides a similar experience. My son’s school also uses curriculum enrichment software like the Accelerated Reader (AR) program.  The kids choose from a catalog of books at their grade level and after reading a book, take an online AR test to assess their understanding of the book. The kids see instantly how well they are doing versus their classmates. This creates a genuine competitiveness and pride among the students. I know my son has read more books to this point in his life than I had by his age, and I credit education technology. These technologies help keep the kids excited about learning.

I’m not limited to what’s happening in my kids’ classrooms when it comes to keeping up to date with education and technology. My job at AT&T allows me to experience what’s going on in school districts across the country and there are some really exciting things happening. Some districts are making the move to digital textbooks and are outfitting students with mobile devices such as Netbooks or tablet computers. One district going through this transformation is the Lake Tahoe Unified School District (USD) in South Lake Tahoe, CA.

After a Netbook pilot program in 2009 showed cost savings and increased student engagement, Lake Tahoe USD decided to expand the program. By the end of 2012, the district plans to provide a Netbook embedded with mobile broadband to every middle school and high school student.  On a recent webinar, Dr. Jim Tarwater, the Superintendent of Lake Tahoe USD, explained that the district saves money using digital textbooks and low cost Netbooks. (At approximately $40 each, the Netbooks offer considerable savings over paper textbooks, which can cost up to $100 per student per year.) Since the Netbooks have been rolled out, more students are completing their homework, an example of how technology can increase student engagement. Netbooks also allow students to access cloud-based collaboration tools.

Known as one-to-one education technology programs, these types of programs have been in place in many school districts throughout the country for several years.  For just as long, there’s been an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of these programs—whether or not the return on investment is worth the initial costs.  Last summer, new research provided some answers to the ROI question.  Project RED (Revolutionizing Education) published a report in June 2010: “The Technology Factor – Nine Keys To Student Achievement and Cost-Effectiveness.”  According to the report, schools that properly implement one-to-one programs achieve more educational success than schools with higher student-to-computer ratios. This is due in part to the fact that successful one-to-one programs feature daily use of education technology, tend to have strong leadership support, and enable student collaboration via social media. For school districts seeking to take education technology to the next level and drive improved learning outcomes, the Project RED report provides a tremendous blueprint for success.

The promise of technology in the classroom has been a long time coming.  Computers began appearing in classrooms over 20 years ago, and ever since, the education community has been looking for the “Ed Tech” Holy Grail.  With new devices and applications hitting the market every day and research like the Project RED report, it finally feels like we’re going to get what we’ve been promised.  It’s a great time to be in the third grade!

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