The future is looking bright for members of the Byram Hills School District. The District’s Building Technology Coordinators (Rekha Singh, Al Lovelace, Dawn Seines, and Joanna Nash), along with Byram Hills Director of Technology Dr. Andrew Taylor, are rolling out a series of educational developments in the coming years, hoping to boost their science and technology footprint. These advancements include a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) education initiative that employs coding, robotics, and 3D modeling to encourage interactive, hands-on learning, as well as a classroom re-purposing to allow for technological advancements to be utilized throughout the school day.
The robotics element is one of the most innovative in recent years. “Our goal at Byram Hills is to develop the leaders of tomorrow,” Dr. Taylor explains, “and to do that we need to develop students that can think creatively, work collaboratively, and communicate effectively.” Hence, their plan. The middle school classrooms, which will use this approach, the BOT Spot (Best of Tech Spot), the most, will incorporate an interactive projector, which casts images onto the floor, set up as challenges for the robot to complete. The task is then to program the robot to complete the challenge set forth for the student. For example, if the floor projects a set of apple trees, “one challenge could be for the robot to water the apple trees,” Taylor explains. “[The students] will program the robot to go up and down the rows on the board, and water each one.” Other challenges include creating a robot that will turn lights on and off, or one that will pick something up and carry it to a student. “It’s all about problem solving,” Taylor comments, “[and] coming up with a scenario and designing and programming a robot to help solve the problem.” Taylor points out that both elements of coding and robotics are part of a major update to the Middle School Technology Curriculum.
Fueled by a transition to using cloud-based, wireless Google ChromeBook computers for teaching purposes in 2014 –“we didn’t really need these computer labs anymore, and we wanted to think of new ways of using them,” notes Taylor–the room’s repurposing equips each classroom with a state-of-the-art projector called Span by Nureva, which casts images onto a large whiteboard, up to 40 feet in length, for students to embellish and interact with. The technology is such that large groups of students can add to the board simply by walking up to it and drawing on it with their finger. With the drag of one’s pinky, the board can shift and expand, allowing for multiple users to work on one problem, or in one area, simultaneously. Additionally, given that the content is online, it can also be viewed or edited on any projector or device in the classroom.
Through the genius of technology, too, those students still seated while others are up working at the board will also be able to contribute to the lesson through a software connection in their ChromeBooks–which Taylor can only see as an invaluable advantage. “If I have a typical interactive whiteboard in a classroom, I can have a couple students up there, but the rest of the class is kind of passive. With this new [advancement], I can have 30 students up at the board and have students contributing [to the lesson] from their seats. It’s great.”
He adds that these new developments may also encourage new teaching styles, noting that teachers are devising creative ways to utilize the boards while giving their lessons.
With this technology, “we’re looking to create more interactive lessons and games that engage and involve students,” comments Taylor, on the subject. “With such large boards, we can empower students to be active learners in the classroom. [It’s about] making learning fun.”
While this initiative brings about exciting changes that are no doubt cause for celebration, Taylor’s fully aware that it’s not all without its fair share of challenges: “We’re shifting the education [model] and changing the structural strategies,” he says of the initiatives. “Moving to a new model of learning is difficult, and takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight.” Taylor also acknowledges “not all of this type of technology is made for schools–some are made for homes–so there’s [also] some adjustment we have make in that regard as well.”
But all in all, he’s ready to enact the new system. “We’re doing things that haven’t been done in schools ever before,” he says, with a smile, extending his thanks to the Byram Hills Education Foundation for all their financial support: “We couldn’t have done it without them.” Additionally, on the subject of next steps, Taylor mentions “Phase 2,” which involves bringing this new technology into the three on-campus libraries, as well as building an additional classroom, deemed Hub21, to allow these connections to be accessed from a central location. “We are combining research-based learning strategies with modern technology…some of it will work, and some of it may not,” Taylor says, summarizing his objectives. “But we’re thoughtful in our planning and excited about where we’re headed…and where the future will take us.”
The Byram Hills Central School District is located at 10 MacDonald Avenue in Armonk. For more information, visit www.bryamhills.org
Matt Smith is a writer and regular contributor to The Inside Press. For further information or inquiry, please visit www.mattsmiththeatre.com.