Back to school part 4: How will technology change Winchester schools?

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Summer is drawing to a close, and students will be reporting back to school in just a couple of weeks. It’s been a busy time for all of the school staff, and particularly Dr. Judy Evans, superintendent of the Winchester Public Schools. The Star caught up with Evans, who is beginning her third year at the helm, and asked her about new programs, the end of the high school construction project, and challenges facing Winchester students. In this fourth and final part, we asked about technology and how it is changing how Winchester students learn and are taught. We also were curious about how the legalization of marijuana will impact health education.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve had a long career as an educator. How has the rise of technology changed students and education?

In general, I think devices are tools like paper and pencil, and students should use them to show what they know and are able to do in a variety of ways. I was a high school English teacher, and my students didn’t have access to technology; they had to hand-write all of their essays. I encouraged them to rewrite their essays as many times as needed to get a better grade. Few did it because they had to hand-write it each time. But on a computer, you can revise so easily. Computers have revolutionized the teaching of writing.

Similarly, websites with math problems might have hints with them, so if a student writes a wrong answer, the computer gives a hint so the student can eventually get to the right answer. It can adjust the next problem based on what the student is doing. Adaptive technology can personalize learning for students and give them immediate feedback. We weren’t able to do that 15 years ago.

Education is becoming more self-directed, more individualized. Technology allows us to meet students where they are and bring them forward instead of the one size model we were forced to use beforehand.

Students need to know how to access information and vet sources because there is a lot of information and misinformation and you can get sloppy. And I think making sure school technology is up to date is important.

We have sufficient technology for now, but in five years who knows what the technology will be? Preparing students for whatever comes next is big challenge. The world used to be pretty predictable: you’d go to college, major in a certain major and do a certain job, follow a certain path. Many of our students will do jobs that haven’t even been invented. Education has to be skills-based rather than content-based, because content is easily searched. You don’t have to memorize the capitals of European countries anymore because you can look that up. Obviously there are facts students need to know, but the skills of observation, curiosity, and communication far exceed in importance memorizing the parts of the cell in biology. We need to change the orientation. That’s the challenge for us, because as educators we excelled at the game of school and some of our students are sleepwalking compared to the pace of information.

How is the district preparing for legalized marijuana?

I don’t know if I’m the best person to speak to this because in theory it doesn’t affect our students because they are underage. However, we are undergoing a pretty comprehensive health/wellness curriculum review and as part of that effort we’re looking at when we teach students about substance abuse and related issues. It’s not just a matter of educating students because I think most understand the risks of making bad choices, but also looking at the wider community.

We’re pretty confident students are not using substances during the school day. But they bring the associated problems to the school and, these are often identified through family problems, abuse, that put students in situations where they are vulnerable to being hurt by others. We want our students to be safe and make good choices.

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