However, head of science at East Auckland’s Tamaki College, Jay Malhotra says whether people are for technology or they resist it, great things are happening in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) world.
“Whether you’re with it or not – there seems to a little less resistance to change, for example, my mum does not use a smart phone or tablets, but is aware of these gadgets and encourages her grandson to use some of the technology that has been developed,” Malhotra says.
“She would definitely like to limit the screen time though, so that he can play outdoors too.”
Sick of driving 36km one way to work daily, Malhotra moved schools in 2011, where he teaches physics and re-started level 2 and 3 electronics classes.
He has also tried starting robotics hobby sessions at Tamaki, but his students were not so keen on that, he adds.
Malhotra joined the team at Tamaki College during a time of great change.
It was the only secondary school involved in the Manaiakalani project, which provided Netbooks to students, and free online access (Wi-Fi) to the local community using those devices.
“I was assigned one of those two pilot classes and as the teacher, I designed my website and share it with the students.
“They could access all the activities and notes with a calendar to serve as a reminder for upcoming deadlines, assessments and so on.
“The lesson plans and the resources required were mostly online too and we were doing most of the work online - except of course the practicals.”
Initially there were a few hiccups.
“We had teenagers, Facebook, YouTube and free internet – I don’t need to say much more.”
“But we put guidelines in place, and negotiated with the students about using social media if they finished the allocated work ahead of time … it had never been done before and we were all learning.”
In 2012, the whole school began using Netbooks (it has since switched to Chromebooks) and the wifi system was upgraded to the ultra-fast broadband.
The likes of YouTube and social media became integrated into classes to counter its misuse; all staff and students throughout the school got a Gmail email account and classes began using Google Docs, instead of the traditional pen and paper.
Malhotra estimates over 80 per cent of Year 9 and 10’s work including assessments is done online, while around 60 per cent of the senior’s work including assessments is done online.
“We are not paperless yet – NCEA assessments are written but NZQA is looking at setting up online exams by 2017.
“Some classes have tried the online exams last year and it is a project in the making,” he says.
Tamaki College has already seen the positives of going “digital”.
The student engagement is higher; results are improving in the external and internal exams; and Google Docs saves paper, is more convenient; plus there are many apps and websites students and teachers can use for learning, teaching and marking, Malhotra says.
For many students, being able to show them how things work via YouTube helps them to learn.
“For example, when I teach resonance in physics, I can show a YouTube clip of someone singing and cracking a wine glass … students can visualise this when it comes to giving an example in an exam,” he says.
“For junior students the structure of atoms is an abstract concept - this is brought to life using online atom builder games.
“Using digital is interactive and can help make abstract concepts much more interesting and simple to understand.”
The switch to becoming a digital school has meant many hours of training and professional development for teachers as well, getting everyone up to speed.
“Getting everyone on board has been a feather in the senior management’s cap since many see change as unnecessary – why bother changing if it is working already?
“Our principal Mrs (Soana) Pamaka has been encouraging new ideas and deputy principal Mr (Russel) Dunn has been leading us into a digital teaching/learning environment from the front, with slam sessions about new apps done at staff briefs.
“We choose the ones we find useful and incorporate into our planning.”
Staff are also encouraged to share anything new they have used or learnt at professional development (PD) sessions with their colleagues.
“But the school has essentially got everyone on-board and it is a win-win situation.”
As a science teacher, Malhotra is a fan of the push by the New Zealand Government to promote STEM subjects and career paths to students.
“Obviously I am biased towards science, but 10 years ago we did not know about YouTube, or Gmail and Facebook was a photo album.
“There are students writing apps, and they are up and running a small business before they are out of school – this is where career-paths are headed … we need to be prepared for it, so that we can prepare them for what is coming.”
Visit manaiakalani.org for more information on Manaiakalani.