In Hudson Valley teacher's class, technology's not a hard cell

Melissa Seideman, a teacher at Haldane High School

Melissa Seideman, a teacher at Haldane High School in Cold Spring, uses iPad and iPhone technology as part of the curriculum for her Participation in Government class. Seideman's students are often asked to text their parents during class discussions, and their texts are shared with the entire class. (Nov. 20, 2012) (Credit: Elizabeth Daza)

Sitting at the back of the class with her iPad, history teacher Melissa Seideman stopped the video documentary on the health care debate playing on the SMART board and told her students at Haldane High School in Cold Spring to check their cellphones.

"We're going to see what your parents said by text message in a second," Seideman said.

Seideman peppered the students with questions, both in person and on a virtual chat room, in which students were asking -- and answering -- questions about the health care law as the video played.


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On each student's desk was an iPad. Some had their phones sitting out, too, something unheard of in many high schools across the nation. But in her classroom, Seideman uses technology to engage students and underline traditional lessons about history and democracy.

"They're using (technology) for all these social purposes. We need to teach them to use it for educational purposes that will be useful to them later in life," said Seideman, who spoke about mobile devices in the classroom earlier in November at the National Social Studies Conference in Seattle.

Some school districts in the Hudson Valley, and nationwide, are loosening up policies on students' use of cellphones in the classroom. But it's really a handful of innovative teachers, like Seideman, who are pushing forward the technology-in-the-classroom movement.

WEB-BASED LESSONS 'EXCITING, RELEVANT'

On Tuesday, Seideman's senior government students were absorbing the diversity of viewpoints on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Using cellphones, Seideman brought the students' families into the conversation.

"Hopefully, you got a response from your parent or family member," Seideman said.

The opinions from moms, dads and aunts on Obamacare started popping up in conversation bubbles on the SMART board. One mom liked the health care law, and another said she didn't know much about it. One dad thought it was a socialist policy.

After class, the students said those school-day texts often spark discussions at the dinner table.

"It definitely gets my parents 100 percent interested ... they are always asking what I'm learning next," said Sarah Rodzevik, a Haldane senior.

Aside from engaging their parents, students said Web-based lessons are just more exciting and relevant.

"Using textbooks in other classes, it's a lot different. They were written years ago," senior Paulina Satsuk said, noting that some teachers will have students cross out outdated information in books. "It's new. It's online. It's fresh."

In class, Seideman also asked students to Google health care facts from reliable sources. That kind of research is quicker than scanning through pages of a textbook, senior Matthew Danderano said.

And, Samantha Kapsas added, Seideman's teaching them skills they'll need after graduation.

"It definitely sets you up for college," Kapsas said, noting that homework organization apps Seideman introduced will be useful in college.

DISTRICTS SLOWLY EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY

There are rules and structures to the way Seideman uses cellphones in class. Students can't text their friends or play games. Their phones have to be visible on their desks at all times, and parents have to sign off on their use in class.

But students and parents weren't Seideman's biggest barrier to using technology in her lessons. At her last position, it was her school district, where administrators didn't support her aspirations.

In Cold Spring, Principal Brian Alm had Seideman helping other teachers with technology on the first day. Alm started his education career at Manhattan-based Beacon School, which prides itself on infusing technology into lessons.

Even with administrative support, though, not every teacher readily adopts technology, Alm said. Some feel they have to learn everything about apps and social networks before showing their students. Others also perceive that they might "lose control" of the lesson.

In Rockland County's South Orangetown Central School District, the administrators are trying to develop a positive culture to get innovative technology lessons growing.

"You have a small group of people who are really interested, a large band who are sort of interested but kind of afraid, other teachers who can't remember a password," said Lynn Gorey, an assistant superintendent for curriculum at South Orangetown schools.

South Orangetown leaders last year required every teacher to learn about online tools. The district is working on building its wireless infrastructure to support mobile devices and encouraging innovation among teachers who want to experiment with engaging students through technology.

"Teachers have to start feeling comfortable in understanding the potential because telephones have changed," South Orangetown Superintendent Ken Mitchell said. "They have tremendous capabilities."

Alm agreed.

Education today is less about acquiring information and more about analyzing what's at students' fingertips, he said. The teacher is no longer the subject expert but is rather a guide and conduit to a conversation.

"We're really being faced with a new learning paradigm and that learning happens differently than it ever has before," Alm said. "These tools really help push us to adapt our teaching and learning strategies to a more sophisticated type of learner."

Seideman writes about her lessons on her blog "Not Another History Teacher" and shares ideas with other educators on Twitter at @mseideman.

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