Saturday, October 31, 2009

Article for Alumni Magazine

I just finished writing this article for the Belmont Hill Alumni magazine.

What I've been up to for the last year and a bit...

"Respecting tradition yet alive to innovation..." These words from the Belmont Hill mission statement illustrate the unique way that Belmont Hill marries technology with pedagogy. In a school where face to face relationships are primary, the faculty at Belmont Hill seek out technologies to support this mission, while remaining true to the traditions that have been at this school for decades. In my second year at Belmont Hill as the Director of Academic Technology, I have been thrilled and inspired by the energy and excitement both the faculty and boys show for using technology in their classrooms. Each department has found a way to bring in 21st Century technology tools to their subject matter. We strive to use the technology, not to replace teaching, but rather to take the material to another level, to inspire the boys to see things in a new way and to bring the subject matter to life.

In the Science department the boys created their own Wikipedia like website of information about a variety of genetic disorders. The boys first learned essential information literacy skills to determine if a website is a reliable source for their research. After gathering information about each of their disorders, the boys used Wikispaces ( software to create a website with pages for each of the disorders. Using technology allowed them to include images and video as part of their report. In Geology, the boys are going on a "Virtual Roadtrip," visiting different parts of the United States and blogging about their geological discoveries. Science teachers are also using Google Documents to share lab data with classes.

The English department is using blogging and an online discussion space to scaffold discussions in the classroom. Sharing insights through a social media application called Ning (, is proving to enrich the dialogue that students are having in their classes around the Harkness tables. In addition to blogging, the boys are also using media to express their creativity by recording podcasts of their poems and creating video commercials to sharpen their persuasive skills.

Powerpointlessness no longer plagues the history department, as the boys have learned to use visual media to enhance their presentation skills. The boys discovered the average person reads silently at a rate of 240 words per minute, and aloud at a rate of 140 words per minute. Thus, when you put words on a slide and read them to your audience you actually teach them less than if you included simply an image. The number of bullet points has decreased dramatically. Technology is also helping us teach about plagiarism. Using an application called Turn it in (, students are able to check their work to ensure that they haven't taken anything directly from an online source and fix their mistakes if they have.

Online flashcards are proving to be a great help in the Classics department, where the boys are using Quizlet ( to help them with their Latin vocabulary. The Modern Language department is using a Lingt ( to record and listen to boys speaking in their target language. The Language Lab is set up to improve the speaking and listening skills of our boys. Language faculty also use SMARTboards to record and share their notes from class and post them on our website.

SMARTboard notes are also a staple in the Math department where faculty regularly capture their notes from the board and upload them to our school website. Last year we added two new technology projects to the Math curriculum. Students are using a visual programming language created at MIT called Scratch ( to program their own video games. The application forces students to use problem solving and logical thinking to build and debug their working games. Geometry classes used Google Sketchup ( to design and build 3D models of buildings for the campus. The boys first create blueprints for their models and then use the software to implement their vision.

Finally, in addition to all of the technology being integrated into each academic department, 3 new technology courses, Digital Video, Music Technology and Digital Journalism make their debut this year. In Digital Video students learn how video affects the way we communicate and form opinions. The boys write a scripts, create a storyboards, operate a camera, and edit their films. Music Technology mixes science, history and music and provides students with an understanding of digital keyboards, MIDI technology and computer music programs. The changing face of news meda is the focus of the new Digital Journalism course. The boys explore the essence of journalism and the effect that new technologies have had on how we as citizens are informed.

The campus is indeed alive to innovation. The technology landscape is ever changing here on the hill. The 21st century has brought many opportunities and many changes to our school curriculum. We are all learning to find the balance between the core of the Belmont Hill academic experience and what new technologies have to teach us.


KayH said...

Dear Mrs. Davis

The Belmomnt Hill mission statement is indeed strong and unique. I am very much impressed with the levels of technology integration at your school.

What is even more amazing is that the technology isn't being used to reciprocate old practices and habits but instead is allowing all students to be innovative, engaged, and challenged.

As a computer science teacher this school sounds like technology integration eutopia which leads me to ask a few questions: how easy was the integration process, and what was the initial reaction of the teachers to the technology, were they resistant, apprehensive or all embracing?

As I mentioned earlier the school's mission is both strong and unique. Do you think that technology will one day change pedagogy that is respected in our traditions? How does doing things differently and doing different things affect our teaching practice and overall pedagogy?

Mrs. Davis said...

Thanks for asking such great questions. The integration process at Belmont Hill has been easy at times and challenging at other times. You have to remember that I wrote this article for the alumni magazine, so I have certainly painted the rosiest picture possible.

The mission statement really does capture the challenge. Tradition is very important at Belmont Hill. My strategy last year was to move very slowly. I started by observing as many teachers in as many classes as possible. I did this without a technology agenda. My purpose was to learn the culture of the school, to get to know people and to gain their trust. I think gaining trust is a key to making change. When my colleagues realized that I am a teacher at heart with the best interest of students as my goal, that helped to open them up to my ideas.

You ask a really interesting question about the role of technology in shaping pedagogy. I think the technology tools we use can sometimes shape the way we choose to teach something. But I think it is important to always come back to the teaching objective. What is it we hope students will know and be able to do. That must drive both the pedagogy and the technology. When we lose sight of that and just use the technology for the technology's sake, that is when things fall apart.

When we do things differently we get different results. Students respond differently and learn differently. When we feel that the difference has been successful then we change our practice. But if we never do anything differently we never get the chance to succeed or to fail.

What do you think?

KayH said...

I believe that change is inevitable and as educators we should always be experimenting with different strategies that will bring success to our students. Although one method may be successful today as time and technology changes that method may be rendered ineffective. Of such we should never close our minds to doing things differently and trying different things.

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I personally impressed with the level of technology integration. Amazing is, that is use to make all students to be innovative, engaged, and challenging. It is strong and unique.

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We always kept experimenting for the success of our student, and be innovative with the strategies for sake of students betterment and future is the right way to groom ourselves as a mentor.