Kelley Atherton, The Triplicate

Reaching out to 'digitally native' schoolchildren

Taking a break from their own classrooms Wednesday, 30 teachers were schooled in how to use online technology to better communicate and collaborate with students.

School officials say that Google Apps (short for "applications") will modernize local classrooms.

Google Apps includes a way to make documents at no charge to the Del Norte County Unified School District -andensp;no software or hardware needed.

Using a Google email account (Gmail), teachers and students can share documents, videos and photos, and chat online about assignments.

All of this can be accessed from any computer, any time, said Rae

Fearing, a science teacher at Del Norte High School who has been leading

the way in using Google Apps.

"We're taking learning into the 21st Century," she said.

Google Apps is more engaging for students and teaches them technology

skills, said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Don


It's also a "great communication tool" for teachers and students, he


The school district's new website was also built using Google Apps.

"We've done this for next to no money," Olson said.

Fearing came to the district with the idea of using Google Apps last

fall. She wrote a grant and was awarded $30,000 to train teachers on how

to use Google Apps.

Mark Hammons, an instructor in Fresno and a Google-certified

teacher, has been instructing Del Norte teachers on using the apps

during a three-day workshop concluding today. Eventually, all teachers

will receive training.

"Once a teacher gets a hold of tools, they get excited," Fearing

said. Technology "is a way to engage students."

Just the other day, one of Fearing's students was having trouble on a

spreadsheet. Through Google Apps, she and the student were able to look

at the document at the same time and talk about what changes could be


Fearing said that by sharing documents online, teachers and students

will be less likely to lose assignments like they would a piece of paper

or even a misplaced email.

Changes and comments regarding an assignment can easily be

disregarded when they're on a piece of paper, Fearing said, but students

seem to take these suggestions to heart when done electronically.

"These are digitally native children," she said, who respond to

technology they're already using and have been most of their lives. "We

(teachers) have to come up to their level."

Education is moving away from using textbooks toward using technology

more, Fearing said. She had her students build a website on a chapter

from the course textbooks to review for upcoming finals, she said,

showing how she can acess her students' sites from her Gmail.

Computer skills will also help students get jobs later on, she added.

Students can collaborative with each other by chatting and sharing

documents online, she said. Work on documents is tracked, so that when

students work in teams, teachers will be able to see who did what work,

Fearing said.

Next school year, all upper-level students will have Gmail accounts.

Using the calendar application, teachers can put their notes and

assignments from each school day on a calendar for students to review.

During the workshop, Hammons told teachers that they can set up

reminders for a test or project due date for students on their calendar

and even send them text messages.

Since learning about Google Apps, Fearing has had her students

building websites. More teachers are catching on to the idea of having

classroom websites.

Nicole Cochran, a seventh grade teacher at Smith River Elementary

School, puts her lesson plans on her site for students to see what they

missed if they're absent from school. This is especially helpful for

students who return to Mexico with their families for a period of time

to catch up with their schoolwork, she said.

Mary Michelle Cupp, a fourth grade teacher at Redwood Elementary

School, said that eventually more teachers will be using Google Apps and

designing their own websites, but it will take time for everyone to get

on board.

"It will take some practice and getting used to," she said.

Brett Lauble, a computer teacher at Crescent Elk Middle School, where

students built their own website, said he's been pushing the district

to use more modern technology and sees Google Apps as being the wave of

the future.

"That's typical of education," he said. "We're still here and then we

make a big leap - this is the big leap."

Textbooks are going online and mobile technology like iPads is

becoming more commonplace, he said.

"Web-based is the future, no doubt," Lauble said. "We're on the right