TECH-talk

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Technology (and furniture) initiatives implemented in new science, art and technology wing to spin off throughout rest of campus. 

A fairly recent survey of 2,462 middle-and high-school teachers across the U.S. found that digital technologies overall have been a help in teaching their students in many ways. At the same time, the internet, mobile devices, and social media have brought new challenges to teachers, mostly related to the inherent distractions they tend to create.

Asked specifically about the impact of the internet and digital tools on their role as educators, 92% of the teachers said the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching; 69% said the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers; and 67% said the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents, and 57% said it has had an impact on better enabling their interaction with students.

The study, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, also pointed out that teachers are not only using digital tools in an effort to improve the learning experience for their students, they are also using these tools in their own training, development, and professionalization. 

For the most part, very few teachers in Pew's focus groups expressed outright disinterest in bringing new technologies to their teaching or a belief that digital technologies have no place in the learning process. Instead, most emphasized the practical constraints in making it happen and/or a desire to make sure it is done with the best interests of the students in mind — and only when it clearly improves the learning process.

For Notre Dame teachers, the introduction of technology into their classrooms also has been a net gain for both students and teachers, with most greatly anticipating what the future of technology will bring to their "craft." 

Eden Konja, who is director of information and academic technology for NDPMA, is leading the school's charge into that future. He said he's putting the finishing touches on a new five-year plan, which will be submitted to the school's board of trustees and, once approved, implemented starting in the next school year.

"The plan will include a roadmap to improving technology infrastructure and classroom technology integration," said Konja, who heads a department of four that also includes Melissa York, technology integration specialist; Jason Borngesser, network administrator; and Eleanor McCaskey, who is an IT technician. 

Konja also said he plans to implement a student-led Help Desk next year to supplement his team. "We budgeted money to create a walk-up window in the B-wing triangle so that the students staffing it can support the devices and variety of software used by their peers. They also will get training by Microsoft employees and be encouraged to earn industry certifications." 

New wing to be model

Technology and the internet will continue to play a large role in all classroom instruction from the upper school to the lower school at Notre Dame. But when the new science, art and technology wing opens in the fall, the school is taking the opportunity to incorporate a number of unique initiatives within the 26,000 square-foot facility.

"The new audio\visual classroom technology in the new wing will be a model for current classrooms," Konja said. "We have included ceiling speakers with special short-throw projectors from Epson, which will improve the current projection systems and sound quality in every new classroom."

He said the facility's new robotics lab will include a mobile 65” 4K Ultra HD interactive flat-panel display made by ViewSonic for classroom collaboration and all new classrooms will have wireless presentation devices to allow the teacher to project content on a screen, even while roaming the room with their device. 

"The teachers also will be able to allow students to connect and project to the screen," he said. "We also plan to add another 3D printer for the CAD computer lab, larger and faster than the current models. We hope to also add a plotter printer for the new art space, budget permitting."

Special classroom furniture for students and teachers manufactured by Steelcase also is being planned for the new wing, according to NDPMA facilities manager Julie Frakes. It has been chosen after careful evaluation by the new building architect and most importantly, by teachers and students who were able to "test out" sample furniture options on campus about a month ago.

"TMP, the architect for the new addition, has been researching 21st-century learning classroom styles for us as opposed to traditional learning environments," Frakes said. "The objective is to enhance student engagement by allowing them to feel more comfortable in their learning environment. The furniture options were selected based on mobility, flexibility, variety and easy transitions between the various styles of teaching and learning among our faculty and students."

CHECK OUT FURNITURE OPTIONS HERE.

Frakes added that the philosophy behind the new furniture is to give the students and teachers mobile furniture that can easily be rearranged for collaboration for active learning and to give them different choices of seating: tables and chairs or rocking bouys; high-top tables (standing height) with stools; rolling tablet arm-chair type desks, etc. "The classroom space is being designed to be flexible and fluid, to go from lectures, to projects, to discussion groups," Frakes said. Plus, the furniture will be much more colorful!"

Lower school ahead of the curve and new tablets coming

Currently, Notre Dame's lower division has progressed a bit more than the other two divisions when it comes to innovative learning spaces for students, according to Konja. But soon enough, everyone on campus will be updated, he said.

"For LD students, since they have their own tablet computers, they can move around easily and not have to worry about wires or device weight," he said. "Also, this year was our fourth year in the 1:1 tablet program school-wide, which means a majority of device-lease contracts will expire at the end of this school year. We ordered 450 last year with the expiration of those three-year contracts. This year, we are estimating another 450 devices will be ordered." 

Last year, the Microsoft Surface Tablets for the middle and upper schools were purchased with a savings of 25% from the initial acquisition. This also included a three-year warranty coverage, whereas previously it was two. 

"I am now working with Microsoft once again to ensure we get the best device at the most affordable price," he said. "The Surface tablets are a superior device and work very well in our learning environment." 

For Notre Dame's lower-school students and teachers, who use Apple iPads and MacBooks instead of Microsoft Surface tablets, there have been some major gains in technology utilization as well. 

"We have been working with Apple on becoming an Apple Distinguished School," Konja said. "Administrators and teachers in the division have shown a clear vision that articulates how their technology-rich environment supports the divisions goals for learning. The Distinguished School requirements include a 1:1 program using Apple devices, which we have, and it also requires that faculty and students demonstrate how best practices in learning and teaching are continuously evolving in the classroom."

He said that every teacher in the lower school has become an Apple Certified Teacher and there has been documented evidence of student success through school-based research practices that measure year-to-year improvement and program sustainability. 

"I am excited about the lower division earning this distinguished designation," Konja said. "They have done a fantastic job integrating the 1:1 iPad program into their curriculum."

Showcase school

Konja said the school's relationship with Microsoft has been equally fruitful.

"NDPMA continues to be the largest school in Michigan with a 1:1 Microsoft Surface Tablet program," he said. "We are a showcase school and have welcomed other schools to visit and see the technology integration in our classrooms. Employees of Microsoft have been on campus for several events hosting workshops, sharing computer science information, and even setting up game nights for the students."

Konja said that Microsoft also has been working closely with Notre Dame's IT department to help as much as possible. 

"We've caught the attention of the Microsoft folks in both Chicago and Seattle," he said. "They even want to shoot a professional video on our school soon. I am very excited that they want to capture what we are doing at NDPMA as far as technology." 

New class in computer science

To put a final exclamation point on the technology initiatives planned for NDPMA, Konja said he is very happy to announce that the upper school is planning to offer two sections of AP Computer Science Principles next school year. 

"We're very excited to have helped bring this program to the school," Konja said. "We plan to follow this up by offering AP Computer Science A the following school year. These classes will help our students to better understand technology and programming. We are heading into a world where code will coexist with AI and internet-connected things will change how we live our lives in even more dramatic ways."


Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.

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