Warwick 2nd, 3rd graders shine at statewide technology conference

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Taylor Tatarian, a 2nd grader at Warwick Neck Elementary was on a student panel for the 2015 Innovation Powered by Technology Conference, and was stunned to find out she had spoken in front of more than 1,000 educators last Saturday.

“You said only 100,” Tatarian laughed after Tracy Mollock, her former 1st grade teacher, congratulated her.

Several Warwick Neck students, as well as educators, past and present, were invited to the conference to present their blended learning classroom initiatives. A total of seven Warwick second and third graders participated in the conference. Older students from other schools also participated.

The Innovation Powered by Technology Conference, hosted at the Convention Center, brought together educators, school and technology leaders to collaborate as well as share opinions, experiences and best practices when it comes to blended learning in the classroom.

The student panel, which had students from across Rhode Island in elementary, middle and high schools, encouraged teachers to continue their blended learning efforts.

Although some students admitted with social media so easily accessible technology can be a distraction, the overwhelming opinion was that the introduction of blended learning has enhanced their educational experience.

Fellow Warwick Neck 2nd graders, Julia Smith, Makayla Nava, and Brandon Campos as well as 3rd graders Ben Williamson, Michaels Fitzgerald and Nolan Bowering were also at the conference with Tatarian. All of them are former students of Tracy Mollock and Amy Dolan. The students all participated in the SHAREfest Playground, where the students demonstrated the different technologies that they had been exposed to in their classrooms including surveys, green screens, and music programs.

The students also got to meet Governor Gina Raimondo after she addressed the conference.

Raimondo, a big proponent of blended learning, said, “I have committed myself to sparking an economic comeback and the foundation of that is in our schools.”

More than ever, employees today need 21st Century skills to be successful and the earlier they can garner those skills the better. The introduction of technology in schools is a way of ensuring the future work force is prepared.

“We need innovators, collaborators, thinkers, risk takers, and entrepreneurs. Technology only amplifies what you do in the classroom already. It helps material come alive for students, to help them reach personal success,” Raimondo said.

She said technology doesn’t take over the teaching position, but rather a tool through which teachers can enhance their instruction and personalize learning for students.

Raimondo wasn’t the only one impressed with student progress.

Katie Fitzgerald, Michaela Fitzgerald’s mother, said her daughter’s progress has been remarkable since 1st grade when she began blended learning.

“She started using things in 1st grade that I wasn’t even introduced to until high school or college,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said her daughter loves the technology she has been exposed to and even uses it in her free time, teaching not only her younger sibling, but also her parents.

“They are having so much fun kids don’t even know their learning,” Fitzgerald said. “There is so much education embedded in these programs, but students don’t see it as a chore, they want to keep moving forward. These are our future leaders and developers.”

Principal Patricia Cousineau said she was proud some of her students could have the honor of presenting at the conference.

“I am learning right alongside them. I think its great we can work together with technology and creativity moving forward,” she said.

Although the Warwick Neck students were showcased at the conference Denise Bilodeau, technology application assessment coordinator for Warwick Public Schools, was quick to point out blended learning initiatives are taking place throughout the district.

“It’s an honor for these kids to be here,” She said. “Blended learning is just the right thing for our kids. We know where we want to be as a district and hopefully now with a new superintendent we can move forward with that.”

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