Learning New Ways to Engage Students with Technology

Thanks to VILS training, teachers at Assabet Vocational High School engage students in an entirely new way.
Feb 10, 2014 12:25 PM ET

Learning New Ways to Engage Students with Technology

Alexia Forhan helped bring cutting-edge technology to Assabet Vocational High School in Marlborough, Massachusetts and helped push her students to new heights — all because of a fight over a phone.

During the past school year, Forhan saw two students on the verge of a hallway fight. Tempers flared, but a simple threat shut down the fight: “I’m going to take your phone and crush it,” said one. The student with the phone immediately backed down.

Forhan, a veteran science teacher, was surprised that she didn’t have to step in and break up the fight. But she understood that to her students, a smartphone was too precious to risk. Then Forhan had an idea: What if she could harness the devotion that her students poured into their high-tech gadgets and use it to spark a passion for learning?

That idea led Forhan to submit an application that won Assabet a slot as one of the first 12 Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS). The VILS program is the first in the nation to give teachers intensive training on how to use mobile technology in the classroom, followed by a year of in-school technology coaching to keep them on track. The comprehensive training is led by the International Society for Technology in Education, a group of educators that champions the effective uses of technology and specializes in teacher training. Through the VILS and Verizon’s Thinkfinity Community website, teachers can also tap into a rich selection of professional development programs, both on-site and online.

Assabet’s teachers started their VILS training with learning the basics: how to use mobile devices in classrooms; how to create innovative lessons; how to incorporate apps such as Educreations, iMolecules, and BrainPOP into class activities. For Forhan, as well as the core group of VILS teachers, the training was an eye opener. “Teachers sometimes get stuck in their ways,” Forhan said. “This was a whole new way of thinking.”

They soon realized that their mastery of the newest mobile technology had benefits far beyond the classroom. The students used e-learning programs to prepare for final exams. They were able to study anywhere they found a Wi-Fi connection. They used their smart phones to participate in classwork from home. More students completed homework more often.

Success soon became evident. Foran’s class included a group of seniors who had fourth-grade math skills. They had one final chance to pass a state exam required for graduation. But through VILS, Forhan’s students could use new mobile learning tool to bridge the gap. She used iPads apps to immerse the students in required state standards in biology, chemistry of life, and evolution.

Thanks to VILS training, teachers at Assabet know how to engage students in an entirely new way. They give fewer lectures and typical homework assignments, and spend more time on innovate ways to ignite a passion for learning. Now, when Forhan prepares her students for finals using their high-tech gadgets, she can tell them to go into the test and “crush it.” And, much to her delight, they do.