Technology is shaping education at Aquinas High School where teachers Marcus James and Jonathan Keck each recently earned the prestigious title of Apple Distinguished Educator, an honor that included participation in the Apple Tech Conference held July 14-18 in Washington, D.C.
As an Apple Distinguished School, part of the tech giant’s education support program, James and Keck have been leading the school in the implementation of the school’s technology in the classrooms. There are 470 Apple Distinguished Schools in 34 countries.
James and Keck were among just 198 teachers within the Americas selected for this honor given out every two years.
James teaches environmental studies while Keck teaches history and Latin, and they have been working to coach teachers in the effective use of new technologies to improve instruction and learning.
Keck said once the school put an iPad for each student’s hands learning has seen a dramatic shift, becoming more decentralized.
“The Internet has broken what education was,” Keck said. “They [the students] have unlimited information at their fingertips, and, in a lot of ways, teachers have become coaches and facilitators for learning rather than the center of learning.”
“We’re mentors guiding them through the information, prompting them, through feedback, into creativity,” he added. “My class slowly shifted from me at the center to students at the center of their learning.”
Gone are the days of a teacher standing and lecturing in front of a classroom full of note-taking students. Classrooms look more like workshops with students gathered in groups as the teacher and students buzz around the room working on their learning projects. The technology has also brought about a shift towards student creation and problem solving.
“The iPads are used not just as a research tool but a creative tool,” Keck said.
“I’ve tried to make history class not the boring , drab learning environment cliché image that people have of history classes. I try to make it passion filled and creative.
“I’ve seen kids empowered and impassioned about history and tackling problems creatively,” Keck said. “That translates into everyday life, careers and college.”
He’s also seen increases in grades and test scores, and these increases have been particularly dramatic in his students’ Advanced Placement test scores.
This technique has also worked for his Latin class where one of his classes. In lieu of a written test he asked his students to demonstrate that they have learned.
They created a 40-minute film using the their Latin skills to script and film a spin off of “Harry Potter,” teaching themselves to film using a drone, to use editing software and basic CGI.
“What they produced, as a group, was this short film that they were really proud of, and it exceeded anything I had ever imagined. “I’ve never seen that king of passion form kids. Unlocking their creativity and passion is key to having them take ownership of what they’re learning.”
During the Washington, D.C. conference, Keck and James teamed with the other California teachers and Apple Distinguished Teachers alumni to tackle regional educational challenges and create educational resources.
“It was amazing being in a room of 500 to 600 incredible, innovative educators one moment after another,” Keck said. “It was a humbling and inspiring experience.”