Tech Case Study | Feature

ActivTables Help Middle Schoolers Collaborate

Richard O’Malley is the superintendent of the Edison (NJ) Township Public Schools. Here, he recounts how Edison became the first district in the country to use Promethean ActivTables for its middle-school classrooms, and how the new technology has helped his students.

Setting the Table
We decided that we needed to change the dynamic of our middle-school classrooms, engaging and motivating our students in a different way. We already had Promethean boards in all of our classrooms from pre-K through eighth grade, and we have had the Promethean ActivExpression devices in certain classrooms. This fall we became the first district in North America to begin using the Promethean ActivTable. The ActivTable is like a large iPad turned on its side, allowing up to six students to interact on a project using multimedia and the internet, all sitting at the table together. We brought four ActivTables into each of our district’s four middle schools, using them for science and social studies classes.

Encouraging Self-Directed Learning
These are tools that enable us to change not only the instructional approach of the teachers but also the way in which kids are learning. They’re sitting around together, which they like to do, and interacting while working on a multimedia project as groups of two to six students. We can take all of our technology in the classroom and integrate it into one unified system, and our students can explore at a much different level. Ultimately, they are better able to engage in the self-directed learning that we look to have in the classroom.

Social Gatherings
The social aspect of middle school is very important. We’re taking advantage of that to encourage a social-education process, with the teacher moving around as the facilitator and the kids doing the active learning. For up to six kids to sit together interacting on a project with engaging multimedia technology, that takes the level of education to a whole different realm from just sitting around in a group talking about a textbook. It’s been a great innovation that has really changed the classroom environment. I could see this type of technology becoming a critical piece of equipment in the classroom, just like the desk and the chair.

We want interactive technology to be the medium in which our kids are learning, so we have begun the process of taking our curriculum in science and social studies and putting it on the ActivTable through custom-designed apps. We study Egypt in the sixth grade, so we’re designing apps that have specific activities the teachers want related to Egypt. For science, we are using these custom-designed apps to develop interactive ways for students to learn the periodic table and the solar system. Rather than learning about these things out of a textbook, students are collaborating on projects that are much more interesting and meaningful to them.

Into This World
This is all about adapting to the learners that we have in front of us today. The reality is that kids are growing up in a digital world, and we have to make their learning environment more like the environment they’re used to. What we’re moving toward with interactive technology is much more like the way they engage with the world around them from a very young age. This is their mode of obtaining information and understanding that information. We can’t just say the traditional classroom is going to work for the next 100 years, because the world students are growing up in is changing and the world that they will be working in is changing.

About the Author

Dan Gordon is a freelance writer based in Agoura Hills, CA.