Stephanie Brittingham is an eighth grade health teacher at Mason Middle School in Mason, Ohio. She has been teaching 10 years for Mason City Schools, a district that has been given an A rating in preparing kids for success beyond the classroom from Ohio School Report Cards. She sat down with us to tell us a little bit more about what it’s like for students in the classroom these days and how technology plays an important role in their daily learning.
How has the use of technology changed from the time you were a student to now?
Technology has changed so much since I was in school! I remember that taking a trip to the media center or computer lab while I was in school was a rare, but welcomed occasion. My first few years of teaching weren’t too far off of that. I’d have to schedule time to use a lab if the class was working on a project. If there was an interesting article I found on the internet; I’d have to print it off and make copies for my whole class.
Scheduling labs and printing things from the internet are now a thing of the past. Students have their own computers they get to bring to class and if I want to share something on the internet – whether it’s an article, game, website or even their own grades – I simply share a link and they have access to it. Students type into documents, discussion boards, and email on a regular basis now. This is the second year in a row that my current eighth graders have had their own devices and it’s been an easy and awesome transition.
What sort of technology is used in your classroom on a daily basis?
Every student is lucky enough to have a personal device. Most kids have Chromebooks, but some elected to have devices other than a Chromebook. Our school rents them out to students for the year and gives them the option to purchase it. Teachers give instructions on how to access all of the things necessary for class and let them know what apps or extensions might be necessary for a particular class.
They bring their Chromebooks to class every day, and we use them frequently. Students all work in Google Chrome, utilizing slides and docs, and also have school Gmail where they can easily contact peers and their teachers. They also have a main database called Schoology, where they can find class information and access their grades quickly and easily.
How do you use Schoology and other tech to stay connected with parents/students?
Everything is so much more transparent compared to when I was in school. Assignments, tests, rubrics, directions, study tools…pretty much everything teachers have for class is now posted to our school platform, Schoology. There are features within Schoology that allow a teacher to message students and their parents. There is also a place where teachers can post notifications for everyone to view. Parents can access anything they need to know about a class within a few taps or clicks. Some parents have the Schoology app on their phone so they can check how their child is doing in all classes at anytime.
I also use an awesome app called Remind. It allows me to send a mass text to all of my kids, but they will not see my phone number, and I will not see theirs. It’s a great tool to use during long weekends, if I’m sick, or if I forgot to tell my class something important for the next day.
What’s it like having students as followers or friends on social media?
I have to be really careful about social media and assume that my kids can see things that I post even on my personal social media pages. I do have an Instagram account that I use for school, and it’s been really fun.
My kids realize that I’m a human being and have a life outside of school. Sometimes they think that all teachers do is teach. I also try to post some cool things we do in class so I can recognize my students and give them shoutouts to a large group.
Another thing I try to do is show how my work life can transpire into my personal life. Since I teach health, I try to post events that I’ve participated in so they can see that I really to try to practice what I preach. Overall though, it’s been a great experience. I love keeping up with former students. I also enjoy having conversations with my students about the cool things I see them doing outside of the classroom.
How do you see social media use play out in kids’ relationships with each other at school?
Occasionally I’ll hear students refer to things they saw their friends posting about, but I really don’t notice it affecting their relationships at school. If anything, it’s been a good conversation starter for kids who are friends on social media but haven’t become friends in real life.
One thing we talk about in my Empowerment class is that, oftentimes, images can be deceiving. Some students seem to have it all together based on the pictures they post or the words they type. In reality, what they’re feeling might be drastically different from what you see on social media.
What sort of innovations do you see school’s needing in the future to stay up-to-date and teach real-world skills?
Students having their own learning device has been monumental. Many other buildings in Mason do not have that yet. We are working on it, but it will take a few years to get there. Things are so much quicker, more transparent, and easily accessible when they have their own devices.
We also offer coding and robotics classes, and there is another class that allows students to create designs and use a 3D printer. We have a tech apps class that teaches the ins and outs of technology to help prepare kids for technology careers.
How does the school system try to integrate tech-free time or regulate tech use?
Shockingly, I would have thought kids would not be allowed to use their devices during lunch. It turns out that students are better behaved and stay in their seats when they can play on their phones/Chromebooks during lunch, so our school allows tech time during lunch.
I think tech-free time is up to the individual teacher. My students are only allowed to be using technology when we are using it as a whole class; otherwise, their Chromebooks are closed and their phones are out of sight. Most teachers still value putting the pencil to paper. I think it helps with retention of material and it’s good to get away from the screens.
Tech regulation depends on the individual teacher, though. If a student is using a device inappropriately (when they aren’t supposed to be using devices or if they are on social media, or texting friends) I will take it and keep it at my desk. They can come pick it up at the end of the day. If it happens again, I give it to an administrator.
I never look at their screens because I don’t want to infringe on their privacy, but I will turn them in if I feel the student was taking advantage, distracting class, or misusing their device.
How has technology influenced your teaching style?
Lessons have become more independent for the students. They will have a variety of tasks to complete by the end of the bell and kids can work at their own pace. This has been helpful for students who learn quickly and can move through things faster than others. It’s also been nice because if a student doesn’t finish their assignment, they can always resume it for homework. I still value group discussions and full class lectures but the learning they do with their devices allows them to work at a pace that’s right for them.
*Note: Mason City Schools students come from households that earn just over double the U.S. national average. The majority of students’ parents hold Bachelor’s Degrees (39.2%) or Graduate Degrees (24.5%).