Fourth grade teacher Heather Cox interacts with her students at Crabapple Crossing Elementary School on Friday, Dec. 6. CAITLIN WAGENSEIL/Staff.
December 11, 2013MILTON, Ga. – Heather Cox sees the classroom as an extension of the real world for her students, with technology and tradition aligning as partners – not adversaries.
"In a perfect world, technology and instruction blend seamlessly," said the fourth-grade teacher from Crabapple Crossing Elementary School. "Students are exploring and teachers are facilitating the learning…encouraging the students to think deeper and challenge themselves."
Her work in advancing the use of technology in the classroom has garnered notice beyond her school and the school system. Cox recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she was recognized by President Barack Obama as a "Champion of Change" for creating instruction models for technology that can be used nationwide.
"In an age when the world's information is just a click away, we've got to bring our schools and our libraries into the 21st century," said Obama during the recognition ceremony Nov. 21. "It's not just about wiring schools; it's about changing students' lives."
Cox was nominated for the Champions of Change Award by parents at Crabapple Crossing, and was one of only 10 educators nationally to be recognized.
As the grade-level chair, Cox helped implement the "Bring Your Own Technology" initiative at Crabapple Crossing last year. The pilot program, currently in place at a handful of Fulton schools, allows students to use smartphones, tablets and other devices as supplements to school resources.
"The BYOT pilot is still very new to us," said Cox. "We began last year, starting with only one classroom for a few months, before expanding…[to now include] fourth and fifth grades."
She said teachers and staff are still learning what works best and how to use the technology to transform instruction, but early signs are positive.
"It's hard not to notice an impact when students realize they can receive instant feedback on their progress, [or] when they see statistics on how many visitors they've had to a website they designed, and their face lights up with excitement," she said.
Cox also began an after-school technology club for students and serves on the school system's vanguard technology team.
Through the pilot program, she learned valuable lessons regarding how quickly change should be implemented.
"The biggest lesson I've personally learned is not everyone is ready for this new frontier. Instead of simply throwing everyone into the deep end and hope they swim, the best approach is to let people – both teachers and parents – try to get used to these new waters little by little," said Cox.
But she knows the technology train has left the station, and schools must adjust to the realities of the world around them. While Fulton Schools is taking expansion of the BYOT program slowly, Cox says the lack of devices in a student's home, or in the classroom, should not be a deterrent to using technology in the classroom.
"I advise teachers to take a lesson from TV mentor, Tim Gunn, and 'Make it work!'" Cox said, laughing. "You have three desktop computers and that's it? OK, let's figure out what we can do with that. You are unable to bring your own device? OK, here's mine or share with a friend."
But the bottom line is teachers must reach and teach children through all available methods, she said.
"Technology in education is quickly becoming a necessity, as opposed to a luxury," said Cox. "[It] does not replace high-quality traditional teaching methods. Instead, it should enhance the incredible work that teachers are already doing."