Byline: Beth Bales
Computers are fairly standard pieces of equipment in classrooms across America. But using a computer often is a separate activity, apart from the routine of reading, math and other classes.
In Jill Nippert's third-grade classroom at Mill Creek Elementary School, the computer is a frequently used tool, readily available to enhance lessons in math, geography and language arts, or even to send an e-mail to Alaska.
In fact, Nippert, along with Dave Kimball of Geneva Middle School and Jill Ohm of Geneva High School, were Kane County Regional Office of Education winners earlier this year. The three were recognized at a luncheon touting "the role of technology in education" for "exemplary technology use" in the classroom and for integrating technology into the classroom.
"I feel technology is not a curriculum. It's a tool we use to enhance our curriculum," Nippert said.
She has been interested in computers since her grade school days, when her father brought home a unit that connected via their home phone to a computer at Bell Labs.
That interest grew while her children attended Harrison Street Elementary School. She admired the technology program run by technology coordinator Jan Weigand, a first-grade teacher.
In fact, she focused on technology in education for her first's master's degree, which she received in June. She is working on a second.
"I want to be a pioneer," Nippert said. "I believe it (using technology) is very useful for the kids, not just now but in the future, for whatever job they'll have."
Teachers must learn new ways to bring this dimension to learning into the classroom, integrating it to the curriculum and making it meaningful, Nippert said.
On one recent Monday, Nippert and her students used the in-room computers, including a laptop hooked up to an overhead projector, for several subjects, including social studies and math. The math, in turn, was related to work done the week before in language arts, when they studied the book "Freckle Juice."
In social studies, the class studied a forest's life cycle.
After learning about the subject from books and lectures, students took turns using the computer to draw the steps of what happens in the forest, around the label "Forest Life Cycle," written in the center. Everything showed up on the screen so all could see.
"What do trees do?" Nippert asked. After answers came in, Michelle Witom used the laptop to create the appropriate symbol. Then Andrew Clausen took his turn at the computer, typing in "feed and give animals shelter."
"Now, what would happen if we removed one of the pieces; if, say, all of a sudden, the soil doesn't feed the trees anymore?" Nippert asked.
"It would stop the life cycle," Valerie Bender said. Trees would disappear, the class said.
Then, said Derek Madeira, "We might not have oxygen." "Animals would have nothing to eat," added Michelle.
A few steps later, …