StateImpact Florida
6:20 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Why A Florida Private School Helps Its Staff Stay High Tech

Nancy Gavrish has taught for 36 years, art for the most part, to students at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne.

But lessons that worked for Gavrish at the beginning of her career weren't as effective later.

"I realized for years that I was not able to keep students’ attention like I used to," she said, "that demonstrations just weren’t doing it anymore."

The staff at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy. From left: Nancy Gavrish, Cathy Koos, Brad Meyer and Teresa Schultz.
Credit StateImpact/Flickr

So Gavrish turned to technology to lure students in. First she dabbled with YouTube -- with limited results -- before turning to online museum collections, virtual tours and an electronic whiteboard. Eventually, she had her students create art based on a historical figure and use iMovie to compile video portfolios.

Gavrish said students now dive into their assignments, but admits she had a tough time making the initial plunge into technology.

"I was scared at first," she said, "because I realized that even my own children and the children I was teaching knew more than I did. They were OK with just sitting down and going for it, where I was very hesitant.

"I realized that if I wanted to continue to really connect with those children, I had to do it."

Gavrish has plenty of help at Holy Trinity.

Brad Meyer was once a social studies teacher, but now helps his colleagues fold technology into their lessons. His title? 21st-Century learning specialist.

Like Gavrish, often teachers tell Meyer they want students to pay more attention.

"A lot of the teachers come to me and they say 'Look at these papers. They’re sloppy. They’re messy. They showed no effort,'" he said. "So I can usually get them started with motivation. Then we usually look at the learning goals and I tell them how this tool can meet that goal in a new way."

Holy Trinity puts an emphasis on technology in its classes. Cathy Koos, head of the lower school, said devices, applications and bandwidth aren't enough. She said 90 percent of using technology well in school is providing good training for staff.

"A lot of these things are emerging. A lot of research is just happening," she said. "And you will see studies that show kids on a laptop are not engaged on the lesson. They’re doing things they’re not supposed to be doing.

"But that’s where I think the professional development [comes in] so that the teacher knows 'when are the times to use technology? When are the times not to use technology?'"

Meyer and others said successful teaching with technology will likely follow a few failures.

"Not everything works. In teaching, there’s a lot of trial and error," he said. "Most teachers here in 2014 see that they’re going to have to adapt a little bit. We can’t stick to strictly paper and pencil from here on out."